Volunteering often makes us feel good but does it mean better health? Epidemiologists in a new paper argue it does, but the confounders are obvious; parents who take their kids to volunteer are often wealthier and in better health and on surveys about their kids claim better outcomes.

The work originated from parent-reported survey data of 22,126 children (6 to 11 years) and 29,769 adolescents (12 to 17 years) in the 2019 to 2020 National Survey of Children’s Health. The authors adjusted and weighted the data to reflect their beliefs about the demographic composition of youths in each state. 

Parents answered whether, during the past 12 months, their child or adolescent participated in community service or volunteer work at school, church, or in the community and also had parent-reported, dichotomous outcomes:
(1) excellent and/or very good health
(2) flourishing
(3) anxiety
(4) depression
(5) behavioral problems.

Models were adjusted for sex, race and ethnicity, household income, parental religiosity, and urbanicity. The authors used statistical regression to find the association between volunteering and the 5 outcomes for children, adolescents, and the total sample. Significance was set at a 2-sided P < .05. 

In the data, 88 percent were above poverty level and 83 percent living in cities. Parents surveyed said their 64 percent of the time their children were in excellent or very good health, flourishing (64%), and without behavioral problems (90%). In modeling , volunteering was associated with higher odds of parent-reported excellent or very good health in children and higher odds of parental beliefs about flourishing . Volunteering was associated with lower odds of anxiety in adolescents and lower odds of behavioral problems in children.