OBJECTIVE: The present research addressed the following important question in pediatric medicine: can participation in an efficacious preventive intervention ameliorate the risk that a genetic vulnerability factor is hypothesized to confer on increases in risk behaviors across preadolescence?
METHODS: As part of the Strong African American Families preventive intervention study, data were collected from 641 black families in rural Georgia, assigned randomly to the prevention or control condition. The prevention condition consisted of 7 consecutive meetings at community facilities, with separate parent and youth skill-building curricula and a family curriculum. Each meeting included separate, concurrent sessions for parents and youths, followed by a joint parent-youth session in which families practiced skills they learned in the separate sessions. Involvement in risk behaviors was assessed when the youths were 11 (pretest), 12 (posttest), and 14 (long-term follow-up) years of age. A genetic vulnerability factor, that is, a variable-nucleotide repeat polymorphism in the promoter region of the SLC6A4 gene (5HTT), was assessed 2 years after the long-term follow-up assessment.
RESULTS: Youths at genetic risk who were assigned to the control condition displayed greater increases in risk behaviors across the 29 months that separated the pretest and long-term follow-up assessments, compared with youths at genetic risk who were assigned to the Strong African American Families condition and youths without genetic risk who were assigned to either condition.
CONCLUSION: This is the first study to demonstrate that participation in an efficacious preventive intervention can ameliorate a genetic risk for increasing involvement in health-compromising risk behaviors across preadolescence.