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The Life Course Perspective or Life Course Theory (LCT)

Image of young child watching a woman play a guitar.The life course perspective or life course theory (LCT) is a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the mental, physical and social health of individuals, which incorporates both lifespan and life stage concepts that determine the health trajectory. 

The resources found on this webpage are intended to introduce and reinforce LCT. They have been designed and organized by an interdisciplinary work group of leadership training programs. The target audiences for these resources include students, trainees and faculty of training programs funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration's Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB).

Suggested ways to use this site:

  • Encourage students and trainees to test their knowledge by taking the Health Equity Quiz;
  • Print out and discuss case studies (or develop your own using the suggested framework);
  • Review the slide library for slides that might be useful in your next presentation;
  • Require students and trainees to view the LCT webinars before the next class or seminar;
  • Require those new to LCT to review the many resources available on this page;

Provide Your feedback! These resources have been designed to support greater incorporation of LCT into MCH training programs. Sections of this webpage will be updated on an ongoing basis. Please let us know if you find these resources helpful or if there are other materials that should be included. This is your resource library!

Case Studies

Image of a young child and woman smiling at the camera.

The Life Course Perspective is defined by MCHB as the multidisciplinary approach to understanding the mental, physical, and social health of individuals, which incorporates both life span and life stage concepts that determine an individual’s health trajectory.

Case studies are descriptions of real life experiences or situations which have been developed to raise an important issue or to enhance a participant’s understanding and learning experience.

On the box on the right, you will find a case study template or outline that may be used to develop a case study within your training program. Below, you will find an example of a case study that follows the template provided. Below this case study, you will find additional case studies written to assist MCH training programs to teach the concept of life course to trainees, faculty, and community partners.

Contact the Maternal and Child Health Team with Questions

Anna is a 35 year old Mexican-American who completed college in Mexico and has lived in the United States for ten years. (Submitted by: Joann Bodurtha, LEND)
Download Case Study - Anna (PDF)

Angela is a single mother of Paolo, a 3 year old boy with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), and a an adolescent daughter with autism. (Submitted by Mary Marcus and Caitlin Glass, PPC)
Download Case Study - Angela and Paolo (PDF)

Caroline started her LEND training program to pursuing advance graduate education and to further her knowledge about research, policy, and service systems. (Submitted by Sue Lin, MCHB)

Download Case Study - Caroline (PDF)

Jane is the MCH Director at a local health department in a large urban-rural mixed county. (Submitted by Cheri Pies, SPH)

Download Case Study - Jane (PDF)

14 year-old Kevin and his mother are visiting the pediatrician to discuss Kevin’s recent weight gain. (Submitted by Patrick Butler, LEAH)

Download Case Study - Kevin (PDF)

Life Course Library

A mother and child cheek to cheek outdoors.

The following group of slides has been collected to serve as a resource for MCHB-funded training programs. These slides maybe used in any order to support a better understanding of the life course perspective.

Contact the Maternal and Child Health Team with Questions

The social determinants of health are those factors which are outside of the individual; they are beyond genetic endowment and beyond individual behaviors. They are the context in which individual behaviors arise and in which individual behaviors convey risk. The social determinants of health include individual resources, neighborhood (place-based) or community (group-based) resources, hazards and toxic exposures, and opportunity structures.

Download the Social Determinants of Health (PPTX)

Life Course (vs. Life Cycle and Life Span) Risk and Protective Factors Pathways and Trajectories Early Programming Cumulative Impact Critical or Sensitive Periods

Download the Life Course Model as an Organizational Framework (PPTX)

Life Course Perspective: Resources

Provider consulting a patient.

The following presentations provide an overview of the life course perspective.

Contact the Maternal and Child Health Team with Questions

The CANDLE Study (Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood) is a longitudinal cohort study designed to: Evaluate 1,500 pregnant women and their children living in Memphis/Shelby County, TN from the second trimester into childhood; and Investigate the wide range of genetic, epigenetic, demographic, environmental and social factors influencing child development across urban and suburban neighborhoods.

This presentation provided a review of the design of CANDLE and outlined the work in progress in evaluating factors affecting socioemotional development in African American infants and toddlers in Memphis/Shelby County, TN.

Speakers: Frederick B. Palmer, MD and  J. Carolyn Graff, PhD

Download AUCD CANDLE Study (PDF)

Webinar Objectives: 1. Describe how epidemiological and historical trends affect the system of care for children with developmental disabilities; 2. Explain the life course framework and how it is related to people with developmental disabilities; 3. Identify at least one way to integrate the life course framework into training professionals in the field of developmental disabilities. This webinar titled, "New Bottles for Old Wine: Lifecourse Framework in Historical Perspective" was the first in a webinar series developed through the Southeast Region Consortium and AUCD.

Speaker: Jeffrey P. Brosco, MD, PhD

New Bottles for Old Wine: Lifecourse Framework in Historical Perspective (PDF)

The University of Wisconsin, Madison Pediatric Pulmonary Center (UW PPC) provides interdisciplinary leadership training for graduate students and postgraduate professionals. The training includes a three-credit on-line course entitled Interdisciplinary Care of Children with Special Health Care Needs. This paper describes the course, the content and organization of which was guided by the life course perspective (LCP). The UW PPC team used the LCP to guide course organization, content development, and evaluation approaches. UW PPC trainees took responsibility for content areas, performed literature reviews and reviews of resources, and suggested student activities. Course content was focused on the child with special health care needs (CSHCN) embedded in contextual environments of family, community, culture, and larger social and public policy arenas.

The full article is published in the Maternal and Chlid Health Journal, May 2013. Authors include: Lori S. Anderson, Mary Schroth, Mary Marcus, Craig Becker, Darci Pfeil, Rhonda Yngsdal-Krenz, Debra Silvis, Candace Drier, and Hannah Marshall.

Download Article

University of Minnesota, School of Public Health

This issue of Healthy Generations begins with an overview of the life course perspective, serving as the foundation for subsequent articles and materials that explore the framework in greater detail. The contributing authors come from a variety of professional backgrounds and disciplines reflecting its overarching philosophy. The publication includes an exploration of the science of brain development and the impact of early experiences by Dr. Megan Gunnar and follows with a discussion of adverse childhood experiences research. Dr. Glenace Edwall provides an overview of the importance of evidence-based practices in early childhood mental health. The issue concludes with a listing of web resources to provide the reader an opportunity to delve into the life course framework in greater depth.

Download Article

To better understand the issues and to inform its deliberation in formulating recommendations for policy, research, and practice, the Infant Mortality Commission asked experts in various fields related to maternal and child health and infant mortality to prepare background papers on specific issues. This background paper explores the relationship between maternal nutrition and infant mortality, with an emphasis on the context of relationality. It provides an analysis of the relationship between maternal nutrition and leading causes of infant mortality, as well as maternal, infant, and child health; an overview of the nutritional status and behaviors of pregnant women in the U.S.; and a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of nutritional supplementation programs in pregnancy.

Download Article

"Disability Across the Life Course" by Tamar Heller and Sarah Parker Harris, from the Institute on Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), explores topics central to the lives of people with disabilities across the life course. It is part of The SAGE Reference Series on Disability, edited by Gary Albrecht,(UIC).

In this book, the life course approach assumes that, beginning prenatally, events occurring early in life affect later periods in one's life. It recognizes that development does not necessarily proceed in neat stages and that impairments interact with social determinants (e.g., culture and socioeconomic status) and environmental aspects (e.g., services and supports) across the life course, resulting in differing outcomes for people.

Purchase Book

The development of this webpage was supported by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) through a Cooperative Agreement with Health Resources and Services Administration's Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB), Grant #UA5MC11068. The content was developed by an interdisciplinary working group comprised of representatives of MCHB funded leadership training programs in the areas of Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (including trainees), Pediatric Pulmonary Centers, Nutrition, Public Health, Adolescent Health,  AUCD and representatives from MCHB.