4 years ago

A life course approach to reproductive health: Theory and methods

Taking a life course approach to the study of reproductive health involves the investigation of factors across life and, also across generations, that influence the timing of menarche, fertility, pregnancy outcomes, gynaecological disorders, and age at menopause. It also recognises the important influence of reproductive health on chronic disease risk in later life. Published literature supports the use of an integrated life course approach to study reproductive health, which examines the whole life course, considers the continuity of reproductive health and the interrelationship between the different markers of this. This is in contrast to more traditional approaches that tend to focus only on contemporary risk factors and which consider each marker of reproductive health separately. For instance, we found evidence linking early life factors such as growth, socioeconomic conditions, and parental divorce with ages at menarche and menopause, although the nature of the relationship differs. We discuss the different theoretical models that are used within life course epidemiology and which postulate pathways linking exposures across the life course to health outcomes, using examples of relevance to the study of reproductive health. These highlight the importance of examining timing of exposures, such as during critical periods in early life, and the temporal order of exposures. How life course frameworks of reproductive health can be developed to help identify hypotheses to be tested is also demonstrated. This approach has implications for the development of effective health policy that moves beyond identifying not only the type of intervention but also the most appropriate time across life to intervene.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0378512209004642

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