We examine the childhood antecedents of somatic, social and psychological functioning over the lifespan. Our goals are: 1) to extend knowledge on the pathways connecting early-life stressors and early-life environments with later-life outcomes, 2) to extend knowledge on the factors explaining inter-generational transmission of social and health-risks, and 3) to examine how transmission of risks can be reduced by early-life preventions and interventions. We mainly use data from prospective cohort studies following individuals over several decades. We have shown that stressors in childhood confer risk for midlife cardio-metabolic outcomes including diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerotic calcification, as well as mental health outcomes including depressive symptoms and sleep problems. We will proceed by examining the mechanisms underlying these associations and we will test whether behavioural interventions are effective in reducing the outcomes induced by early-life adversities. In the near future, we will examine how psychosocial risks transmit over generations using a unique prospective dataset gathered during 40 years and over three generations (the Young Finns Offspring Study).
Here we focus on three streams of research: a) poor social relations / loneliness as health risks, b) socioeconomic origins of lifespan health and c) work-life stressors producing health and disease. We have shown that loneliness, social isolation and poor quality social relations are risksfor excess mortality, cardiovascular heart disease, and cognitive decline. An other major line of research relates to socioeconomic factors predicting lifespan health and on the pathways that may explain such relations. Here we are interested in elucidating the inter-relations between psychiatric disorder and the development of socioeconomic status and social relations over the lifespan. We are also interested if accumulation of socioeconomic adversities and poor social relations over the lifespan produces permanent changes in a person’s physiological system. The changes may include for instance inflammatory activation or premature epigenetic aging (DNA methylation). We will test these hypotheses in our future work, extending knowledge on the mechanisms whereby socioeconomic and psychosocial exposures are associated with human health and wellbeing. We have also shown that negative psychosocial characteristics at the workplace, such as low level of organizational justice, lack of job control, confer risky outcomes for mental and somatic health. In the future, we will examine new mechanisms connecting work-place stressors with health outcomes, including inflammatory pathways and epigenetic pathways. Elucidating such mechanisms will enhance knowledge on how to prevent work-related health problems and how to enhance wellbeing at work.
In this ERC Starting Grant project (MENTALNET) we will examine (a) much a person' s mental disorder affects the wellbeing and prosperity of family members, including parents and siblings, (b) whether these effects extend to partners in later adulthood, and (c) the broader social impact of mental illness across the life course, also estimating the longevity of these wider harmful influences. The study is based on several interlinked nationwide Finnish.