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Cambridge Public Health


Summary report from joint Cambridge Public Health and Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) workshop now available.


Intergenerational adversity refers to the ripple effect of challenges, such as mental ill health and poverty, passed down through families and communities with impacts on the wellbeing, opportunities, and outcomes of future generations. Breaking these cycles of adversity requires a public health approach that focuses on addressing the root causes of intergenerational challenges and identifying effective interventions and policies that foster population health and well-being.

This was the theme of a workshop jointly organised between the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP) and Cambridge Public Health, held in July 2023.

The workshop brought together local, regional, and national policymakers, leading academic experts from the University of Cambridge, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to discuss how academics and policy makers can work together to break intergenerational cycles of public health adversity.

The purpose of the workshop was to:

  • Address key public health policy challenges in this space, such as: How can we break intergenerational cycles of public health adversity to improve population outcomes? How can different sectors work together and with local communities to achieve this?
  • Gain insights and collect input to develop a set of recommendations for local, regional, or national plans aimed at improving population health.

Overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities

Workshop participants highlighted valuable insights from the COVID-19 pandemic that could inform policy making to address intergenerational health challenges. A key lesson learned during the pandemic was the importance of prioritising prevention strategies over merely addressing acute demand.

Prevention strategies can be highly effective in addressing inequality and long-term adverse health outcomes. However, there is often limited political enthusiasm for investing in these strategies due to their longer-term benefits. Additionally, gaining public support for prevention approaches is more challenging compared to intervention strategies.

The pandemic also revealed the need for effective communication with the public and the role of compelling narratives and storytelling in achieving change.

Enhancing evidence and engagement for intergenerational health policy

A recurring theme of the workshop was how evidence and academic research could be better used in policymaking. In terms of intergenerational transmission of adversity, it was noted that there is insufficient knowledge and evidence about how to solve this challenge, and a lack of shared understanding about what the term means.  

Related to this, a key area of discussion was around the concepts of ‘evidence’ and ‘lived experience’ and their role in policymaking processes. These terms have sometimes been confused, even though individual narratives can significantly differ from the broader macro-level evidence. Nonetheless, incorporating lived experience into the research process could enable academics to integrate stories into their work presentations. This approach could prove highly effective in reaching and connecting with policymakers.

A full summary report of the workshop is available here.

This policy workshop and its report mark the beginning of a programme of work by Cambridge Public Health on the topic of ‘Breaking Intergenerational Cycles of Adversity’.

Our annual showcase event, also on this topic, will take place on the 7th of November 2023. Click here for more information about the event.