- Medicine; Psychology
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Childhood adversity negatively impacts the biological development of children and has been linked to poor health outcomes across the life course. The purpose of this literature review is to explore and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions that have addressed an array of biological markers and physical health outcomes in children and adolescents affected by adversity. PubMed, CINAHL, PsychInfo, Sociological Abstracts databases and additional sources (Cochrane, WHO, NIH trial registries) were searched for English language studies published between January 2007 and September 2017. Articles with a childhood adversity exposure, biological health outcome, and evaluation of intervention using a randomized controlled trial study design were selected. The resulting 40 intervention studies addressed cortisol outcomes (n = 20) and a range of neurological, epigenetic, immune, and other outcomes (n = 22). Across institutional, foster care, and community settings, intervention programs demonstrated success overall for improving or normalizing morning and diurnal cortisol levels, and ameliorating the impacts of adversity on brain development, epigenetic regulation, and additional outcomes in children. Factors such as earlier timing of intervention, high quality and nurturant parenting traits, and greater intervention engagement played a role in intervention success. This study underlines progress and promise in addressing the health impacts of adversity in children. Ongoing research efforts should collect baseline data, improve retention, replicate studies in additional samples and settings, and evaluate additional variables, resilience factors, mediators, and long-term implications of results. Clinicians should integrate lessons from the intervention sciences for preventing and treating the health effects of adversity in children and adolescents.