Researchers receive $3 million to study how adversity affects offspring’s health

Are health outcomes and disparities perpetrated across generations?

Three generations of men
Washington University psychology researchers Ryan Bogdan and Thomas Oltmanns received a federal grant to study how adversity may perpetuate racial health disparities and health outcomes within families. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Washington University in St. Louis psychology researchers Ryan Bogdan and Thomas Oltmanns received a federal grant totaling more than $3 million to study how adversity may perpetuate racial health disparities and health outcomes within families.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Institute on Aging is providing the funding, spread over five years.

Despite growing evidence that health outcomes are perpetuated across generations, there has been little empirical research on the possible psychosocial and biological mechanisms underlying this intergenerational transmission.

Ryan Bogdan, assistant professor of psychological & brain sciences at Washington University
Bogdan

”This study, which bridges across three generations —  grandparents, children, grandchildren — will inform our understanding of how health outcomes and disparities are perpetrated across generations,” Bogdan said.

The NIH grant will support the researchers’ efforts to uncover biopsychosocial pathways, including possible contributions from the interaction of stress-related biological factors, such as cortisol, inflammation, telomeres and psychosocial influences, such as social integration and health behaviors.

“Ultimately, such knowledge may contribute to targeted prevention and policy,” Oltmanns said.

Bogdan is associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, where he directs the BRAIN Lab.  Oltmanns is the  Edgar James Swift Professor in psychological and brain sciences and professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine. He runs the St. Louis Personality and Aging Network laboratory.

Oltmanns

Their study will be based on a diverse sample of 1,630 adults, 64-73 years old, who already are participating in an ongoing NIH-funded longitudinal study of stress and health. If the original participants agree, children and grandchildren of these adults will be recruited to complete self-report questionnaires assessing stress, health and other psychosocial factors. Some participants will further provide blood and saliva samples so that inflammation markers and levels of the stress hormone cortisol can be measured.

Other Washington University collaborators include Darrell Hudson, associate professor at the Brown School; Cynthia Rogers, associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine; and Joshua Jackson, the Saul and Louise Rosenzweig Associate Professor of Personality Science in psychological and brain sciences. Jennifer Tackett, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University, is also a member of the project’s leadership team.

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