A developmental study of stress and physical health in childhood
Walling, Bobbi R.
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Recent shifts in perspectives on health recognize the complex interplay among biological, psychological, and social factors. Psychosocial stress, including the socioeconomic environment, individual differences in self-evaluative cognitions and emotions, and the quality of social relationships have been found to be particularly potent stressors with strong associations to biological systems that mediate health and illness. Accumulating evidence suggests that the impact of stress on health begins in childhood when early environmental conditions program patterns of biological and behavioural processes that mediate health, and that health problems develop out of the cumulative dysregulating effects of exposure to multiple sources of stress over time. Using a bioecological framework, which conceptualizes child health in terms of the dynamic and interactive relationships among the child and his or her social context, the present study examined the combined effects of family socioeconomic stress, high biological reactivity to stress, exposure to negative parenting, and internalizing problems on mother’s report of children’s general health in a community sample of children participating in three phases of a longitudinal study. Results of hierarchical regression indicated initial child health and the interaction between children’s behavioural inhibition and internalizing problems at Time 1 were significant predictors of child health at Time 2. Findings demonstrate the importance of controlling for initial health status in longitudinal research and to further assessment of the role of these proximal, individual child factors in health outcomes.