Good health begins early in life. Unfortunately, so does poor health. Low socioeconomic status (SES) in childhood and a harsh early family environment can adversely influence trajectories of health outcomes long into adulthood. It may come as no surprise that childhood physical and sexual abuse have negative mental and physical health consequences, both immediately and over the life span. These effects are well documented (e.g., Springer et al, 2003). What may be more surprising is that relatively modest family dysfunction that numerous people routinely experience can lead to adverse outcomes as well.
Both animal and human research conclusively documents that warm, nurturant contact early in life exerts permanent beneficial effects on the functioning of biological stress regulatory systems and on socioemotional skills that affect responses to stress across the life span (Francis et al, 1999; Liu et al, 1997; Repetti et al, 2002, 2007). When this contact is lacking, both biological stress regulatory systems and behavioral skills for managing stress are compromised. Adverse downstream consequences include problems in emotion regulation, social skills deficits, poor health habits, and exacerbation of biological stress responses prognostic for poor mental and physical health.
Department of Psychology, University of California, 1282A Franz Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA e-mail: [email protected]
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