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Undiagnosed and subclinical health problems in vulnerable adults exposed to stress and adversity

March 2019 - February 2022

The long-term physical health effects of child maltreatment are well documented in self-report, mostly retrospective, studies. However, there have been very few objective, longitudinal, multimethod and gender-balanced studies on physiological responses to stress and the onset of symptoms related to chronic disease, thereby slowing the advancement of prevention and intervention programs. Building on four earlier waves of data, the proposed study will address critical gaps in the research literature on social determinants and the biological embedding of stress by adding biomarker data to an expansive longitudinal dataset that contains comprehensive, prospective measures of child maltreatment subtypes, stress, coping, and resilience, as well as self-reports of health. Biomarkers include on-site measurements of blood pressure and pulse rate; height and weight for computing BMI and body fat percentage; and capillary serum collection and point-of-care testing to measure two markers of cardiovascular disease risk: total cholesterol and HDL, and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c). Capillary serum collection will be used for laboratory analyses of two markers of immune function selected to represent different arms of the immune response: Epstein-Barr virus antibody, an indicator of cell-mediated immune function, which has been shown to increase with both acute and chronic stress exposure, and c-reactive protein, an indicator of both chronic and acute inflammation. Remaining serum volume not used for these assays will be retained for future analyses. We will study each marker separately and in multi-biomarker algorithms consistent with definitions of allostatic load and biological age to assess physiological dysregulation across multiple systems. Data collection will also include a short self-report survey on health and illnesses, pain, and functional disability, as well as service use and help-seeking behaviors, sleep, physical activity, and diet (eating habits and nutrition) to replicate and expand existing measures. With existing and newly collected data, we will analyze: (1) the long-term health effects of child maltreatment subtypes in biomarkers of emerging chronic illnesses and self-reports of poor health and functional impairment; (2) developmental sensitivity to stress and its relation to child maltreatment and adult health; (3) protective effects of early (childhood) resilience and adaptive coping; and (4) gender differences. This project will increase understanding of emerging chronic illness in vulnerable adults when some have subclinical disease symptoms that go unreported, and when lifestyle changes can still mitigate risk for the onset of serious health conditions that become deeply rooted and intractable.

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