Life Course Theory (LCT) can be explained by four key concepts -- timeline, timing, environment, and equity -- as defined in Rethinking MCH: The Life Course Model as an Organizing Framework. These concepts can be used to address questions of (1) why health disparities persist across population groups and (2) what factors exist that influence the capacity of individuals and populations to be healthy.
Timeline. Today's experiences and exposures influence tomorrow's health.
Pathways or Trajectories. Health pathways or trajectories are built – or diminished – over the lifespan. These resource guides address long-term exposures, experiences, and needs of the MCH community.
Timing. Health trajectories are particularly affected during critical or sensitive periods.
Early Programming. Early experiences can "program" an individual's future health and development.
Critical or Sensitive Periods. While adverse events and exposures can have an impact at any point in a person's life course, the impact is greatest at specific critical or sensitive periods of development.
Adolescents (see also Resource Guides listed under "Children" for topics that cover both childhood and adolescence)
Environment. The broader community environment strongly affects the capacity to be healthy.
Encompasing Definition of Environment. Environment is broadly defined to include not only physical factors (e.g., safe housing, areas for recreation, availability of nutritious foods, clean air and water, etc.), but also social and economic factors (e.g., racism, poverty status of families and communities, job opportunities, community or family violence, maternal stress, etc. ), and the capacity of the community to engage in change.
Risk and Protective Factors. Risk and protective factors are not limited to individual behavioral patterns or receipt of medical care and social services, but also include factors related to family, neighborhood, community, and social policy.
Equity. Inequality in health reflects more than genetics and personal choice.
LCT speaks to the importance of focusing on health equity from the perspective of population and place and tells us that broad population-level and systems-level changes are needed
Special Health Care Needs
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Authors: John Richards, M.A., Olivia Pickett, M.L.S., M.A., MCH Library