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Examining the influence of adversity, family contexts, and a family-based intervention on parent and child telomere length

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posted on 30.06.2022, 08:40 authored by Kit K. Elam, Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, Ariana Ruof, Dan T. A. Eisenberg, Peter H. Rej, Irwin Sandler, Sharlene Wolchik

Background: Exposure to adversity, trauma, and negative family environments can prematurely shorten telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. Conversely, some evidence indicates that positive environments and psychosocial interventions can buffer the shortening of telomere length (TL). However, most work has examined individual aspects of the family environment as predictive of TL with little work investigating multiple risk and protective factors. Further, most research has not examined parent TL relative to child TL despite its heritability.

Objective: In the current study, we examined interparental conflict, positive parenting, alcohol use, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and a family-based intervention as predictive of parent TL. We also examined interparental conflict, positive parenting, ACEs, and a family-based intervention as predictive of child TL.

Method: Parents and adolescents from a sample of divorced families participated in either a 10-session family-based intervention, the New Beginnings Programme (NBP), or a 2-week active control condition. Approximately six years after the intervention, a subsample of parents (n = 45) and adolescents (n = 41) were assessed for TL. Parents reported on interparental conflict, ACEs, and alcohol use. Children reported on interparental conflict, positive parenting, and ACEs. In separate models, these constructs and the NBP intervention condition were examined as predictors of parent TL and child TL.

Results: Findings indicated that the family-based intervention was associated with longer TL in parents. Also, positive parenting was associated with longer TL in children.

Conclusions: These findings have important implications for the role of the family and family-based preventive interventions in buffering parent and child biological stress.

Across multiple indices of psychosocial functioning, we found a family-based intervention associated with longer telomere length in parents and positive parenting associated with longer telomere length in children.

Across multiple indices of psychosocial functioning, we found a family-based intervention associated with longer telomere length in parents and positive parenting associated with longer telomere length in children.

Funding

The last author’s work on this paper was supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [grant number R01HD094334].

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