Reconsidering Risk: Adapting Public Policies to Intergenerational Determinants and Biosocial Interactions in Health-Related Needs

According to recent research, interactions between infant health and environment can play crucial roles in clustering health and economic disadvantage among certain families. Researchers have provided a clear example of such intergenerational biosocial cycles when they document that interactions between parental low birth weight status and prenatal environment are associated with the risk of a low birth weight, and that interactions between a child's birth weight status and early childhood environment are associated with adult socioeconomic outcomes. In this article, we consider how existing policies may be revised to more effectively address such interactions between social and biological risk categories. We are particularly concerned in this discussion with revising risk categories so they can encompass biological risk, social risk, and developmental frameworks. A framework of biosocial risk is quite flexible and may be applied to a variety of issues and programs; however, in this article we focus on the single case of low birth weight to illustrate our argument. In considering specific applications, we further explore how attention to biosocial interactions may reshape Medicaid, special education, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.