May 5, 2022

A five-year study to evaluate the benefits of early preventive psychosocial interventions for children ages 4 to 6 who are at risk of severe abdominal pain recently received more than $3.8 million from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.


The project is led by co-principal investigators Rona L. Levy, professor, UW School of Social Work Professor, and Tonya Palermo, UW School of Medicine/Seattle Children’s Hospital, and involves collaboration with colleagues Margaret Kuklinski and Jennifer Bailey from the School of Social Work’s Social Development Research Group.


Chronic pain often clusters in families, affecting parents and children through generations. In fact, children whose parents suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can have double the risk of developing abdominal pain disorders later in life.


Levy’s earlier research demonstrated that pain-specific social learning is highly influential and modifiable in intergenerational transmission. But there has been no research to date to study whether modifying parental behaviors can preventatively influence a child’s illness behavior and reduce the risk of developing abdominal pain.


The NICHD study will focus on whether reducing risk factors, such as anxiety and parental stress, and increasing protective factors, such as social support, can result in fewer abdominal pain symptoms in children, less health-related disabilities and lower healthcare costs over a lifetime. If successful, the results may serve as a prevention model for a range of pediatric health problems where parental responses are influencing factors.