Early adverse experiences and health: The transition to college

Kelly B. Filipkowski, Kristin E. Heron, Joshua M. Smyth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objective: This study cross-sectionally and prospectively examined the impact of adversity experienced prior to college on the health and well-being of students adjusting to their first college semester. Methods: Two-hundred sixteen (216) first-year students completed measures of adverse life experiences, perceived stress, physical symptoms, and healthrelated behaviors during the first 2 weeks of college entry and again at the end of the first semester. Results: Reported adversity prior to college predicted greater perceived stress and physical symptoms at college entry and an increase in physical symptoms over the semester; perceived stress mediated the prospective changes. Early adversity predicted smoking, alcohol use problems, and risky sexual behavior at college entry, but was unrelated to the change in smoking, alcohol use problems, or risky sexual behavior. Adversity was not related to drug use at college entry but did predict change in drug use over the semester. Conclusion: Some risk factors associated with early adversity are present when students matriculate, but adversity also may impact mental and physical health prospectively during the transition to college. Interventions directed at reducing distress may prevent negative developmental consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)717-728
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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