While stress is a normal part of life, chronic stress and elevated cortisol can have costly consequences for health and well-being. In particular, stress and adversity experienced during childhood are known to impact health and development across generations. Early life adversity (ELA) is strongly associated with elevated risks for a wide range of adverse physical, mental, and behavioral health outcomes in adulthood. One likely explanation for these associations is that adults who experienced greater ELA are more likely to engage in health-risk behaviors such as substance use, eating an unhealthy diet, being physically inactive, and getting poor quality sleep. There is growing recognition that ELA impacts brain development in ways that increase lifelong risks for engaging in health-risk behaviors.
The “Healthy Behaviors Study” explores whether individual differences in altered cognition, altered stress system functioning, and altered emotion regulation influence associations between ELA and health behaviors in adulthood. Findings from this ongoing, exploratory study will lead to greater understanding of potential pathways by which ELA impacts developmental trajectories leading to addiction and other health-risk behaviors. Such knowledge is essential for developing novel and more effective intervention components to address intractable health risk disparities among disadvantaged populations who are disproportionately burdened by ELA. Ultimately, this line of research seeks a richer understanding of how developmental adaptations to adversity may foster an intergenerational cycle of poor health and disease.