Intergenerational Health


How parents and grandparents influence our risk of mental illness, substance abuse, and other disorders.

We as a country have recently begun the difficult and important conversation about social mobility and intergenerational wealth. A related—though less discussed—problem is that of intergenerational health. It is increasingly clear that our health is powerfully shaped by our own early childhood experiences, as well as by the struggles and triumphs of our parents and grandparents. This process begins in the womb—and oftentimes before. A wealth of research now supports the notion that maternal well-being before, during, and after pregnancy has substantial long-term health effects for children. Children born to mothers with high levels of stress hormones during pregnancy are more likely to become addicted to nicotine as adults. Offspring of mothers who smoke have higher rates of obesity and poorer cardiovascular health decades later. Women who struggle with mental illness before pregnancy have more childbirth complications including low–birth weight babies and stillbirths.


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