More Americans are acknowledging that childhood trauma can have an effect on health later in life, according to a recent NPR poll conducted in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The report, released March 2, shows nearly 4 in 10 Americans say they had one or more childhood experiences they believe had a harmful effect on their health. Among the experiences Americans most often associate with poor health later are death or serious illness of a family member or close friend; having a serious physical injury or accident; growing up in a low-income household; having parents divorce, separate or break up; and having a parent or close family member lose a job, the report stated.
Authors noted the beliefs Americans have about the negative impact childhood struggles can have on health coincides with research on the subject. Researchers began examining the correlation between childhood trauma and health issues in the 1990s, according to an NPR report to which the poll information contributed. That previous research was dubbed the study of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE.
CDC researchers in the ACE study looked at about 17,000 patients from San Diego and asked them to name how many of 10 different types of adverse childhood experiences had occurred, which included sexual, physical or emotional abuse; neglect; loss of a parent from death, divorce or incarceration; mental illness in a parent; and drug or alcohol abuse by a parent.
Adults who had four or more “yeses” to ACE questions, the NPR report said, were twice as likely to have heart disease compared with patients who had ACE scores of zero. Researchers also found women with five or more “yeses” were four times more likely to have depression as those with ACE scores of zero. Cancer, addiction, diabetes and stroke also occurred more often among patients with high ACE scores, the report said. Scientists are working to more closely examine what negative experiences in childhood do to the body, according to NPR.
Children who have frightening, traumatic experiences when they are small could have their stress response systems programmed to overreact, affecting the way their minds and bodies cooperate, Megan Gunnar, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, said in the NPR report.
“Well, you’ve reshaped the biology of the child,” Gunnar said in the report. “This is how nature protects us.”
Vincent Felitti, MD, director of the California Institute of Preventative Medicine in San Diego and Rob Anda, MD, former staff member of the CDC, created the ACE questions, according to NPR. Felitti and Anda believe preventing childhood trauma could be key to disease prevention and saving billions in healthcare costs.
For more information on the ACE study, click here.