Boston Early Adversity and Mortality Study (BEAMS): Linking administrative data to long-term longitudinal studies

Project: Research project

Project Details


Adverse childhood experiences, such as poverty, psychosocial stressors, and environmental hazards, have been consistently associated with poor adult health. Despite the public health significance of early adversity, the processes by which the “long arm of childhood” brings about morbidity and mortality in later life remains largely unknown. Scientific progress in this area has been severely handicapped by two limitations intrinsic to nearly all longitudinal studies of aging: (1) reliance on retrospective assessments of childhood conditions, and (2) inadequate “lifespan data” on the intervening processes between childhood and old age. Aim 1 of the proposed study tackles the limitation of retrospective childhood data using high-quality administrative record linkage: We will create linkages among prospective early-life information from multiple databases, including newly available digitalized vital records (e.g., census, birth records), water-borne and atmospheric lead exposure, and detailed data on three cohorts of men who have been assessed repeatedly since 1938 (N=724) or 1961 (N=2280), as well as their siblings. As the cohorts are 74%-94% deceased, administrative record linkage will create an exceptionally rich, cradle-to-death, biopsychosocial dataset. For Aim 1, we will test the hypothesis that early adversity in the psychosocial (e.g., cold or chaotic family environment), socioeconomic (e.g., impoverished neighborhood), and environmental (e.g., lead exposure) domains have independent and additive effects on poor health in older men and women. We will separate individual- vs. family-level effects of childhood experiences using the sibling data in a family design. Aim 2 addresses the knowledge gap on processes which transmit the effects of early adversity onto 3 age-related outcomes: chronic disease onset, dementia status, and all-cause mortality. Leveraging the cradle-to-death data on the male cohorts, we will test mediational hypotheses with age-specific levels and long-term trajectories of personality, cognition, psychosocial stressors, relationship quality, and socioeconomic resources as explanatory pathways. We will use a coordinated data analytic approach to inform the replicability and generalizability of findings across the 3 socioeconomically diverse cohorts. Completion of these aims will advance state-of-the-art methods and causal knowledge in understanding how early conditions affect lifespan health, and identify potential intervention targets for mitigating the harmful impact of early adversity on health.
Effective start/end date8/1/193/31/24


  • National Institute on Aging (3RF1AG064006-01S1)


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