A Multimethodological Analysis of Cumulative Risk and Allostatic Load Among Rural Children.

A Multimethodological Analysis of Cumulative Risk and Allostatic Load Among Rural Children.

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A Multimethodological Analysis of Cumulative Risk and Allostatic Load Among Rural Children Gary W. Evans Cornell University This study merged two theoretical constructs: cumulative risk and allostatic load. Physical (crowding, noise, housing quality) and psychosocial (child separation, turmoil, violence) aspects of the home environment and personal characteristics (poverty, single parenthood, maternal high school dropout status) were modeled in a cumulative risk heuristic. Elevated cumulative risk was associated with heightened cardiovascular and neuroendocrine parameters, increased deposition of body fat, and a higher summary index of total allostatic load. Previous findings that children who face more cumulative risk have greater psychological distress were replicated among a sample of rural children and shown to generalize to lower perceptions of self-worth. Prior cumulative risk research was further extended through demonstration of self-regulatory behavior problems and elevated learned helplessness. Theoretical advances in the understanding of the ecology of human development (Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000; Bronfen- brenner & Morris, 1998; Wachs, 2000) have not been matched by analytical methods for capturing the dynamic, systemic interplay of the organismic, proximal, and distal processes that shape de- velopment. Statistical interaction formulations are inadequate to capture the ecology of human development. Interactions, particu- larly higher order terms, have low statistical power. Moreover, researchers’ ability to comprehend high-level (i.e., greater than three-way) interactions is limited. Twenty years ago, Michael Rutter (1983) suggested an alternative approach to the analysis of complex systems operative in human development. In Rutter’s approach, organismic characteristics as well as proximal and distal qualities of the social and physical environment are modeled collectively in what have come to be called cumulative risk mod- els. For each person or environment construct, a dichotomous classification of risk exposure is determined, typically by a statis- tical cutoff (e.g., greater than one standard deviation above the mean, upper quartile) or on the basis of a conceptual categorization (e.g., being below the poverty line, single parenthood). Cumulative risk is then calculated by a simple summation of the multiple risk categories (Rutter, 1983, 1993). The chief advantage of Rutter’s (1983, 1993) cumulative risk metric is its ability to simultaneously model a large number of risk factors without the major statistical and interpretation liabilities of multiplicative interactions. Cumulative risk models also reflect the typical, natural covariation of many childhood risk factors. Socio- cultural forces such as poverty and racism tend to allocate risk disproportionately in societies to subsets of the population such as the poor and ethnic minorities. Thus, a concentration of physical and social risks is often focused on the most vulnerable population strata in many cultures (Schell, 1997). For example, physical risk
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A Multimethodological Analysis of Cumulative Risk and Allostatic Load Among Rural Children.

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