Intervention research across the lifespan optimizes the health development and well-being of children
Newswise—A new Supplement published today in the journal Pediatrics suggests that although we are beginning to connect the dots between events and experiences in early life and adult health issues later, we are not doing enough to intervene in childhood to optimize subsequent health outcomes. At a time of growing concern about the mental health and well-being of youth, young adults, researchers find this lack of attention to building stores of early health and resilience of life “deeply troubling” and call for a major new focus on supporting the positive development of children’s health and sense of well-being.
The series of articles is published as a supplement to Pediatrics speak Lifespan Interventions Research Network (LCIRN), whose national coordinating center is housed at UCLA within the Center for Healthier Children Families and Communities.
“The current situation is deeply troubling for providers and families and represents a profound failure of our healthcare systems to adapt to rapidly changing epidemiology and to respond to new scientific evidence with reforms and improvements in the health system. Immediate action is needed if we are to improve the health of children and the adults they will become,” said Neal Halfon, MD, MPH, director of the Life Course Intervention Research Network and professor of pediatrics, public policy and politics and health management. at UCLA.
The authors write that within the existing system of care, child health care providers are constrained by short appointment times and the inability to address impending social and structural issues that likely contribute to ongoing problems. in adulthood, such as mental health issues, suboptimal diet. and chronic stress. They write that the current system and approach was designed to treat the disease at a time when there was little understanding of epigenetics – how environmental influences and children’s lived experiences can affect the expression of their genes. In fact, for many children, it may be a “mismatch” between what would be an “ideal” set of environments and experiences for them early in life and the reality of those environments and experiences that is the root of many of our later health problems.
The 17 articles in the special supplement focus on several areas where new intervention approaches have the potential to improve health across the lifespan and even across generations. Topics range from a framework for researchers to establish best practices for lifelong intervention work, to the case for positioning young people to collaborate directly with researchers in all stages of intervention development and testing, early childhood mental health interventions, and physical and mental health interventions. virtual spaces such as schools and telehealth. Throughout the study, the researchers emphasize that integrating the role of family and community is key to improving a child’s well-being.
The series indicates that despite the realization of the potential of early interventions to improve health later in life, the shift to a health system designed to keep people healthy throughout their lives has been slow.
“This message is important for everyone, but especially for individuals and institutions who fund health research, child health care providers and researchers, and for policy makers who need to understand that it will be very difficult and costly to achieve health equity later in life without equity from the start,” said Dr. Halfon. “We need to intervene early in the pathways that connect events and experiences in the early years of life to health later in life and find ways to optimize essential outcomes.”
LCIRN is a collaborative network of more than 75 researchers from 25 institutions, service providers, family and community representatives, and thought leaders committed to improving lifelong health trajectories and outcomes for children and families. In addition to the UCLA Center, the LCIRN includes two research nodes focusing on the themes of family and community engagement and race, place, class, and gender; and nine current research nodes that address adversity and resilience, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, early childhood mental health, family health development, measurement of family functioning, school health, success after prematurity, youth justice, and youth-led participatory action research.
FUNDING: This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services under award UA6MC32492, the Life Course Intervention Research Network. The information, content and/or conclusions are those of the authors and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, or where endorsements should be inferred by, the Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services, or United States Government.
DISCLOSURE OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: The authors have indicated that they have no conflicts of interest to disclose in connection with this article.