In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in the early origins of adult health. A growing body of evidence documents that maternal health before conception, prenatal and perinatal exposures, and conditions in childhood play critical roles in health over the life course. While the broad outlines are clear, scientific understanding of the multiple and interacting influences on child health and their role in later health continues to evolve rapidly. With attention to the role of the family in shaping the conditions of early life, this symposium will focus on children’s health and development. Health disparities are set in motion very early in life, and a theme of the conference is to further our understanding of the mechanisms through which such disparities emerge and are sustained across the lifespan.
Bio-social influences on early childhood health
Knowledge of the biological underpinnings of later health that are set in motion before birth or very early after birth is growing rapidly, as is the understanding of how biological processes interact with social conditions to produce health risks or supports for children. In this session, we will explore what is known about early bio-social influences on health, including new approaches to measuring pre-disease health processes through the use of biomarkers. The session will take a developmental perspective on health over the life course, with attention to how compromised health unfolds across the early life course.
Lead Speaker: David Barker, Heart Research Center, Oregon Health and Science University
Christopher Kuzawa, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University
Steven Haas, School of Social and Family Dynamics, Arizona State University
Nathan Fox, Department of Human Development, University of Maryland
Role of family dynamics in children’s health
Children’s family experiences have been implicated in a range of physical and psychological health problems including metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, internalizing symptoms, and externalizing and risk behaviors. Parents can promote child health in their roles as sources of emotional security and attachment, as models for health behaviors, and as engineers of children’s everyday environments and experiences. Conversely, parents’ physical and psychological health problems and behaviors, family conflict, and neglect or abuse of children undermine children’s well-being in ways that can have long-term health implications. In this session we focus on the mechanisms through which family experiences influence physical and psychological health in childhood and beyond.
Lead Speaker: Patrick Davies, Department of Clinical and Social Psychology, University f Rochester
Barbara Morrongiello, Department of Psychology, University of Guelph, Ontario
Dennis Drotar, Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
Douglas Coatsworth, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State
How is the broader social environment linked to dimensions of the family that are critical to children’s health?
Family socioeconomic status (SES) is a critical factor in health disparities among children. Families provide the social and material resources children need for development. Some of those resources reside within families, but children are also linked to the broader social environment through their families. Family SES influences exposure to upstream or meso-level factors (e.g., schools, neighborhoods, health care systems) that play a role in children’s health. This session will address the interactive effects of biological processes, family processes, and the social and physical environments on children’s early health.
Lead Speaker: Nancy Reichman, Department of Pediatrics, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Marianne Hillemeier, Department of Health Policy & Administration, Penn State
Brian Finch, Department of Sociology, San Diego State University
Thomas Glass, Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Impact of social policies and programs on children’s health
The United States spends more money on health care than any other nation on earth. In the face of its investments, however, our nation continues to experience higher rates of child mortality and chronic health conditions than other developed countries. Many of these health problems track into adulthood, creating an enormous burden for families and for the larger society, as well as lost opportunities for productive adult lives. The scope and magnitude of children’s health problems and their long-term implications demand an agenda for action that is informed by research on the social ecology of children’s health. This session will focus on social programs and policies aimed at enhancing children’s health and health behaviors, particularly programs and policies that involve the family.
Lead Speaker: Lisa Berkman, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies
Paul J. Chung, Departments of Pediatrics and Health Services, UCLA
Patricia O’Campo, Center for Research on Inner City Health, University of Toronto
Rebecca Kilburn, RAND Child Policy, RAND Corporation
Symposium organizers greatly appreciate sponsorship from The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; The following organizations at Penn State: Population Research Institute; Children, Youth and Families Consortium; College of Medicine; Clinical Translational Science Institute; Prevention Research Center; the departments of Sociology, Human Development & Family Studies, Health Policy & Administration, Biobehavioral Health, Anthropology, Psychology, Labor Studies; and Women’s Studies Program.
Landale, N. S., McHale, S. M., & Booth, A. (Eds.). (2013). Families and child health. New York: Springer
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