Over 15 million children in the United States live with a depressed parent. Parental depression has been associated with negative social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes for children across development, but little is known about the possible physical health consequences for youth following exposure to parental depression. Further, existing research often relies on retrospective reports of parental mental health and typically includes only one assessment of parents' symptoms. Parental depression is not a static event, however, and these studies fail to capture the fluctuations in symptoms often observed in parents with depression. The proposed research capitalizes on an ongoing longitudinal study of 391 African American parents (Generation 1 [G1]) and their children (Generation 2 [G2]) starting when children were 11 years of age and continuing to age 25. These youth have faced challenging social and economic environments across development, and their parents similarly have faced wide-ranging stressors that increased their risk for depressive symptoms. The availability of this well characterized sample of rural African American families presents a unique opportunity to investigate the ways in which parental depression over a 10-year period across childhood and adolescence predicts youths' risk for precursors to chronic diseases of aging (CDAs; inflammation, metabolic syndrome) in early adulthood. Further, approximately half of the G2 youth now have children (Generation 3 [G3]) of their own, who to date have not been involved in the ongoing study. We propose to collect pilot data with this new generation of offspring. This data collection will allow us to start investigating the possibility that parental depression in one generation could influence development in subsequent generations, even when environmental influences change over time. We propose to examine how G1 parental depression trajectories predict G2 offspring depression and CDA precursors in early adulthood (Aim 1). Then, we will examine potential mediators (e.g., family environments) and moderators (e.g., offspring self-control, external supports) that may alter the degree to which fluctuations in parental depression trajectories are associated with G2 CDA precursors (Aim 2). Finally, we will collect pilot data on 60 G3 offspring to examine the ways in which social determinants of health are transmitted across generations (Aim 3). This pilot project will serve as an exploratory investigation to aid in planning for a larger study of the intergenerational transmission of health disparities. This proposal tests questions surrounding the possibility that parental depression and unsupportive family environments could influence children's development across generations. Findings from this proposal could be used to inform interventions designed to improve children's well being and to identify naturally occurring factors that could protect youth from adverse outcomes.

Public Health Relevance

Exposure to parental depression is a consistent risk factor for poor social and emotional functioning for children across development, but little is known about (a) its effects on youths' physical health or (b) the extent to which these risks are transmitted across generations. This proposal seeks to investigate how variability in level and chronicity of parental depression across a 10-year period is associated with offspring health across generations and whether risk and protective factors can modulate the extent to which exposure to parental depression confers risk to offspring. Findings from this investigation could be used to inform interventions and to identify naturally occurring factors that could protect youth from adverse outcomes.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Initial Review Group (CHHD)
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of Georgia
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United States
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