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How Childhood Experiences Affect Family Health

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Research by Dustin Hansen, Chantel Daines, and Dr. Ali Crandall found that positive and negative childhood experiences affect adult family health.

In 2019, Dr. Ali Crandall published research on how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and positive childhood experiences (PCEs) affect adult health. She found that while ACEs and PCEs both have strong and lasting effects on long-term adult health, PCEs generally have a more powerful effect that can mitigate some of the effects of ACEs.

After this research was published, Dustin Hansen, a public health student emphasizing in environmental and occupational health, was interested in discovering the possible connections between childhood experiences and adult family health.

Hansen received a CURA grant for the project and began work with Dr. Crandall and MPH student Chantel Daines. To gather data, the research team sent a qualtrics survey to 1,030 adults who represented the current demographics of the United States. The participants answered questions about their childhood experiences and about their health according to a new measure of family health developed by professors within the public health department. The new measure of family health included four domains: family social and emotional health processes, family healthy lifestyle, family health resources, and family external social support.

The research, which was published in BMC Public Health, found that on average, the participants had 2.6 ACEs each (which could include living in dangerous situations or living in poverty, or having parents with addictions or mental illness) and 8.2 PCEs each (which could include factors such as having good relationships with adults, having beliefs that provide comfort, or having self confidence).

These results showed that the power of PCEs carried over into family health, where adults often repeat the patterns of their parents. Hansen explained, “Both ACEs and PCEs affect family health in adulthood, though PCEs appear to be particularly salient to future family health.” These positive interactions with children have lasting impacts on their personal health in their future as well as the health of their future families. Hansen explained that the results help him understand “how important creating positive childhood experiences is, as well as working on negating negative childhood experiences.”

For Hansen, participating in the research was an important part of his academic journey. He said, “Research was something that I wasn’t extremely comfortable with, but doing research helped me recognize some of my strengths and abilities that I didn’t know I had.”

Participating in the research also helped Hansen realize that Environmental and Occupational Health was the emphasis that was most aligned with his interests and career goals. Hansen, who plans to become an Industrial Hygienist, said that the EOH program “really fits me and what I want to do in the future.”

In the future, Hansen will be able to use what he learned from the research to help create positive experiences wherever he goes.