It may seem trite to discuss the importance of families on health, but working with and for families at the population level can be challenging. A family focus in public health goes beyond the Household Production of Health model and focuses on a broad range of family structures and types who may or may not live in the same household. In a series of papers, we discuss frameworks for a family-focus in public health practice and research. We also provide a tool (public health family impact checklist) to support public health programs to “think family” in more productive ways.
A variety of frameworks demonstrate how families affect the health of the individuals, particularly children. But less is known about what makes a family healthy. In conjunction with collaborators across the U.S. and coming from a variety of disciplines, we are developing a measure of family health. This measure will allow researchers to examine trends in family health, what leads to better family health, and how family health affects the behaviors and outcomes of individuals during different stages of life.
Many people have heard of ACE—adverse childhood experiences. Having just one ACE is associated with worse health in adulthood. But how can beneficial or advantageous childhood experiences (AKA: counter-ACEs) lead to better health in adulthood? Counter-ACEs measure positive family functioning, emotional and physical safety, and external supports during childhood. They may help to build resilience in the face of ACEs, but also are likely health promoting regardless of one’s ACE score. Our collaborative is investigating the effects of ACEs and counter-ACEs on lifelong wellbeing in a variety of communities.
Our Collaborative has an especial interest in the intersection of families and mental health. For example, the strength of the parent-child relationship may affect the development of depressive symptoms while mental and cognitive health may affect how a mother or father parents.
Families and Disease
COVID-19 has affected families throughout the world. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures affect families in different ways, for better or worse. The health of families may also affect how families respond to the crisis. Our current research is examining COVID-19 and family health both short-term and long-term. Additionally, we are examining family-level approaches to vaccine hesitancy.
Policy has the potential to change outcomes that will influence families to produce better health. By understanding how policy and policy makers view or don’t view the family and family health, public health practitioners will be better able to advocate for families and their overall health and well-being.