Lisa Serbin is co-director of the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project — the Department of Psychology’s longest-running study. It has followed more than 4,000 Quebec families from low-income neighbourhoods for more than 40 years. Serbin, who joined the project in 1981, and her co-director Dale Stack are collecting and analyzing information about four generations of these families, amounting to more than 10,000 people.
With four decades’ worth of valuable data, Serbin and her colleagues have used the cohort for an array of healthrelated research, including the impact of poverty on health, links between childhood behaviour and later use of health care, and how positive parenting — offering children encouraging, non-punitive guidance — contributes to reducing health risks associated with poverty.
Serbin’s 2011 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development showed growing up poor increases one’s likelihood of raising his or her own children in poverty. She’s now investigating how that cycle can be broken. She explores intergenerational transfer — how parents’ education, parenting and mental, physical and environmental health affect their children over the long term.
“We can look across generations and over time and see which factors protect the youngest generation, who may currently be living in environments with high health risk,” says Serbin. “What can improve kids’ chances of a better outcome than that oftheir parents? It comes down to important things like education and parenting.”
Serbin found that involvement, structure and support from parents might reduce some effects of growing up in poverty, and were shown to reduce medical emergencies, injuries, infections and respiratory illnesses during early childhood.
“Our projects are highly collaborative across areas, departments and institutions,” says Serbin. For example, she and Stack are collaborating with colleagues from Concordia and McGill on a project led by Lisa Kakinami, assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, in association with Concordia’s PERFORM Centre.
Using data from the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project, their research looks at how a neighbourhood’s built environment — walkability, access to playgrounds and parks, proximity to fast-food restaurants and grocery stores — impacts health, including cardiovascular and obesity risks, over time, from childhood through adulthood.