Children’s Health and Lifespan Well-being

The Risk and Protective Factors Encountered by Children and how they Influence Health and Well-being across their Lifespan

 

Introduction

The overall health of individuals is determined by an interaction of several factors including environmental, biological, and behavioral aspects which set in from early childhood and affect their well-being across their lifespan (Moore, McDonald, and McHugh-Dillon 2015). Currently, it has been discovered that most of the diseases that affect people at old age have their backgrounds in infancy years. Understanding how childhood health risk exposures affect the later years in life could help in identifying the necessary measures for alleviating such risks. Understanding the risk and protective health encounters during infancy could significantly help in combating diseases that later appear in life (Halfon, Larson, Lu, Tullis, and Russ 2014). In this paper, the researcher reviewed the early health risk and protective factors children were exposed to that contributed to the disease development over the lifespan of individuals. For the purpose of this study, the health risk exposures were categorised under environmental, biological, and behavioral factors.

There is an increasing body of evidence suggesting that the life-long epidemiology of the majority of diseases detected in adulthood have their physiologic and social background in childhood (Waters, Hay, Simmonds, and Goozen 2014). From the recent studies, it has been proven that most illnesses experienced in both adulthood and old age are attributable to the development progressions in utero, infancy, and teenage life stages. Consequently, understanding the risk and protective health factors during the early life is a critical starting point in evaluating the adult diseases and identifying the intervention opportunities to enhance individual health either by behavioral or clinical interventions.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors refer to the external exposures to which children are exposed to while growing up. It includes exposure to physical, biological or chemical effects which could adversely affect health outcome of children if ingested (Children’s Society  2013). For example, persistent exposure to chemicals such as mercury and lead or other harmful substances like ultra-violet light could adversely lead to detrimental health effects in the long-run. Moreover, environmental factors include the children’s exposure to physical torture and air pollution such as odours and noise. Harmful environmental exposure may also happen during the prenatal stage where a child’s mother gets exposed to conditions that are detrimental to the health of the unborn (Gowland 2015).

Concerning prenatal health risk exposure, the sperm or the ovum could be genetically affected by the exposure to some physical risks identified above such as heavy metals and thus result in the growth of an impaired fetus (Waters, Hay, Simmonds, and Goozen 2014). Some of these physical health risk exposures could be related to the occupation of the parent during the prenatal period. It is also common for an expectant mother to get exposed to harmful environmental substances such as dangerous radiations, ethylene oxides, and organic solvents which all adversely affect reproductive outcome such as bearing children with birth defects (Annandale 2014). Also, engaging in substance abuse on the part of the parents affects the life of the fetus. For instance, tobacco use is linked to still-birth, low birth-weight, and a high rate of fetus mortality and morbidity (Barry and Yuill 2016). Moreover, it could lead to the retarded intellectual development and pulmonary diseases which may show up immediately after birth or later life of a child. Such disorders affect children’s communication and literacy development thus impacting on their schooling, long-term mental health, and economic well-being later in life (Moore, McDonald, and McHugh-Dillon  2015). Moreover, some ailments are associated with the environmental settings in which a child is brought up. For instance, children who grow under deplorable conditions with high levels of air pollution have a high potential to develop respiratory ailments in adulthood.

Behavioral Factors

The children’s Behaviour is also known to influence their vulnerability to diseases in the course of their lives. Children’s behavior can be described as their attitudes, emotions, cognitions and explicit traits (Barry and Yuill 2016). Some of these behaviours tend to be deliberate or planned while others are unplanned or involuntary. For instance, the attitudes, beliefs, and emotions of the children could affect their health, mainly because such aspects can modify their explicit behaviours like lifestyle choices (Annandale 2014). Examples of children behaviours that can affect their health outcomes include smoking, unhealthy feeding, and lack of body exercise.  A recent dietary study conducted in the UK showed that high intake of fats during childhood exposed them to increased risks of cardiovascular diseases later in life (Children’s Society 2013). Similarly, unhealthy feeding and lack of body exercise can expose children to weight-related diseases such as obesity in course of their life (Halfon, Larson, Lu, Tullis, and Russ  2014). Therefore adopting a healthy dieting can considerably improve a child’s health and alleviate the risk of suffering from such diseases. Moreover, children’s exposure to adverse behaviours such as trauma or psychological abuse especially before attaining 18 years can lead to the development of numerous health problems including substance abuse, anxiety, and depression along with engaging in risky sexual behaviours (Gowland 2015).

Behavioral health factors tend to be reciprocal in nature in that they can influence or get influenced by other people around children such as peers and parents (Barry and Yuill 2016). For instance, the peer influence, parenting style, teenage behavior, or family culture could determine how children adhere to behavioral requirements such as engaging in health prevention strategies (Children’s Society 2013). As children grow up, they are exposed to numerous developmental challenges that require behavioral adaptations. Since the infancy stage, children are brought up with close emotional attachment to their parents or caregivers and as they grow this attachment tend to diminish as they transit to adolescence. However, some children find it difficult breaking these bonds and could impose stress on parents thus affecting children’s health through such impaired attachments (Moore, McDonald, and McHugh-Dillon  2015). A parental response that further strains this attachment could affect the children’s capacity to produce the required levels of growth hormones which could lead to impaired growth (Barry and  Yuill 2016).

While children experience transitional challenges, the kind of cultural and parental responses they experience could expedite or delay their growth. Past studies have shown that about 25% of children negatively react to new stimuli which could lead to physiological or social stress by the age of six (Barry and Yuill 2016). Such stresses could limit the formation and development of social relationships. Consequently, a child’s self-satisfaction could be lowered because social interactions and human attachments are important behavioral traits in human development. Failure to adequately deal with psychological stress could eventually affect the children’s health in later years.

Biological Factors

Biological factors refer to the prenatal impacts and genetic expressions along with other possibilities and constraints attributed to the postnatal, prenatal, and prior health status of individuals (Moore, McDonald, and McHugh-Dillon  2015). Such factors also determine how a child’s physiological processes develop and how organ structures adjust to the external environment. There are several biological patterns associated with the human body including the response to primary relationships, unique scenarios, and stress which directly or indirectly affect other biological processes such as behavioral and cognitive developments (Gowland 2015). Biologically, human bodies comprise of DNA or genes which forms an individual’s life blueprint.  The genes might be disordered or altered by life events which are prenatal or postnatal in nature (Waters, Hay, Simmonds, and Goozen  2014). Such genetic disorders may pop up immediately or show up later in life. Moreover, it is possible for a parent to transmit abnormal or defective genes to the offspring during conception which might result in malfunctions of the unborn (Waters, Hay, Simmonds, and Goozen 2014).

Some of the health risks to a child’s genes during pregnancy include exposure to ultraviolet light, an imbalanced diet of the mothers, and noise (Waters, Hay, Simmonds, and Goozen 2014). Some genes in the fetus could poorly develop if the mothers get unfavorable environmental exposures which consequently make the unborn child be vulnerable to diseases. For instance, exposing an unborn child to ultraviolet light could increase the possibility of developing skin cancers. Moreover, deficiency in certain nutrients in the diet of the mothers might lead to the development of diseases such as rickets and mental disorders in a child either immediately after birth or later in life (Halfon, Larson, Lu, Tullis, and Russ 2014). The unborn child could also get exposed to diseases including lung disorders if the parents engage in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking and alcohol abuse during pregnancy.

Conclusion

Every child has a right to a healthy life. Exposure to health risks factors whether behavioral, environmental or biological during both the prenatal and postnatal stages could result in diseases in childhood or later in life (Annandale 2014). Therefore, minimising these health risk factors require improving the life of parents, expectant mothers, and babies at various stages of their lives. Some of the protective factors that can be employed to achieve this include safeguarding the environment, good care of infants, proper dieting, and access to good health care (Children’s Society 2013).

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