Breaking the cycle: Addressing generational patterns

Breaking the cycle: Addressing generational patterns

FoodWise works toward healthy eating habits and active lifestyles for families with limited incomes. File photo

By Kris Leonhardt


NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – As generational cycles occur, negative patterns and traits are known to transfer through multiple generations via learned behavior and family dynamics.

These behaviors are passed down until someone sees a need for change, and more importantly, has access to the tools they need to “break the cycle.”

In the upcoming weeks, we will explore five northeast Wisconsin intergenerational family issues — physical health, alcoholism and drug use, mental health, education and housing — and what some organizations are doing to address the trends.

Generation trends

Generational theorists Neil Howe and William Strauss, who developed the “Strauss-Howe generational theory,” categorize generations into four distinct classes, stating that an era starts with an “Idealist” generation that focuses on social issues and questions the morals of existing institutions.

Idealists are born during a time of high optimism and low crime, where children are gratified.

The next generation — the “reactive” generation — focuses on fact and not what could or should be. The focus is often on self, as crime begins to rise and children are not protected as well.

Next comes the “Civic” generation, which is focused on fixing things, rebuilding institutions and working together for the greater good.

Golden House is the county’s only comprehensive domestic violence program. File photo

Strauss and Howe’s fourth generation is the “Adaptive” generation.

This generation is born during a “crisis” in society and values ​​fairness and sensitivity and is generally overprotective.

While some generations can lend themselves well to addressing existing patterns, change cannot occur unless those affected have access to the devices needed.

And, the likelihood of continuing negative behavior is high.

In an article entitled “Intergenerational transmission of child abuse rates, research, and clinical implications,” from The American Journal of Psychiatry, JE Oliver said that “one-third of child victims grow up to continue a pattern of seriously inept, neglectful or abusive rearing as parents,” based on a compilation of 60 studies.

Oliver added that another one-third is susceptible to those generational influences in certain environments.

Addressing healthy eating and food security

Social determinants of health (SDOH) — nonmedical factors that influence health — are conditions in which people are born, live and age that affect conditions of daily living.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists access to nutritious foods and physical health opportunities as an important SDOH.

The CDC works to provide tools for health equity and health literacy by implementing service and nutrition guidelines for hospitals, colleges, food banks and pantries; increasing access to healthy foods; and developing strategies to influence customers to choose healthier foods and beverages.

But, they are not in it alone, with community partners such as the University of Wisconsin, who is getting information right into the hands of communities that need it.

A July 2022 Wisconsin Food Security Project report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that the adult obesity rate in 2019 for Kewaunee County was at 33.2%, while Brown County was at 34.8% and Door County at 31.1%.

The report also showed that Kewaunee County residents had access to just five supermarket grocery stores and double the number of convenience stores. Brown County residents had access to 39 supermarkets and 84 convenience stores, and Door County had 12 supermarkets and 23 convenience stores.

But for others, it’s not just finding healthy choices; it’s getting access to food in general.

The report showed that the estimated number of individuals living in food-insecure households was 6.3% in Kewaunee County, with Brown County at 8.1% and Door County at 8%.

The state average is 7.2%

Programs like FoodWIse, available through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extensions in Brown, Door and Kewaunee counties, work to address both food security and healthy eating.

FoodWIse works toward healthy eating habits and active lifestyles for families with limited incomes through education and is federally funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.

Laura Apfelbeck coordinates the programs in Manitowoc, Kewaunee and Door counties.

“We are the connection to the Wisconsin Idea, bringing the knowledge and expertise of the university to rural areas of Wisconsin,” Apfelbeck explained.

“Last summer, we partnered with the Manitowoc farmers market to apply for funding that brought a UW-Madison intern to work toward increasing access for low-income people. She staffed our farm market information booth and made it easier for those who receive food to share just spend those dollars at the farmers market.

“That effort increased food share spending at the farm market by 700%, meaning more farmers earned money for their work and more low-income families could access fresh, healthy produce.

In collaboration with 4-H, we mentor youth advocates for community health. The youth added smoothies to their school lunch menu and fresh salads to community meals.”

The program meets all generations by working with schools and alongside community partners.

For more information on the FoodWIse program, visit

Working for safety at home

Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach stated that 4,715 referrals of child maltreatment were made to Brown County Child Protective Services last year, as he declared April “Family Strengthening Month in Brown County.”

And that number isn’t out of the norm.

Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, Inc. said that “5,000 suspected cases of child abuse are reported in Brown County in a typical year.”

“Brown County has been focused on promoting proactive ways for families to stay together in order to enrich environments for children,” says Streckenbach. “By understanding that exposure to childhood trauma has a powerful and adverse effect on adults’ well-being, county staff and volunteers work tirelessly to support child, family and community strengths through programs and services.”

The Green Bay Police Department and several other law enforcement agencies recently joined Golden House’s “Be Safe” campaign.

“Be Safe launched in mid-October, which was Domestic Violence Month. The campaign was created to reach victims of domestic violence so that there are local resources for them to turn to for help. Many times, victims do not know where to go or what to do. They are embarrassed and afraid. An anonymous donor stepped forward to fund the campaign, which was created and implemented by O’Connor Connective. An easy-to-remember hotline number was created — 920-212-SAFE. All calls go straight to the Golden House, where advocates answer the calls,” explained O’Connor Connective Communications Manager MaryBeth Matzek.

Golden House is the county’s only comprehensive domestic violence program.

“When a victim of domestic violence calls the Be Safe number and is connected with someone from Golden House, the advocate will assess the person’s situation, asking about their situation, etc. They discuss different options. It is all very personalized and everything is confidential,” Matzek added.

The 2023-25 ​​Wisconsin budget reflected an increase in domestic violence-related funds from $12.4 million per year to $20.2 million per year.

An additional $28 million was also allocated to the Living Independently through the Financial Empowerment (LIFE) program.

The LIFE program works to provide economic mobility to those affected by domestic violence to help ensure their basic needs are met, so they can break the cycle and provide their family with a more stable and nurturing environment.

“Wisconsin ranks eighth in the nation for the number of women killed by men,” said End Abuse Co-Director of Prevention and Engagement Jenna Gormal. “Eighty people lost their lives to domestic violence in 2021, the highest number since records began.”

For more on northeast Wisconsin domestic abuse resources, visit


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