New research published by government health officials indicates children who experience certain types of traumatic events, such as witnessing violence or being abused, appear to face an increased the risk of health problems later in life.
In a study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its November 2019 Vital Signs report, researchers found links between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and 14 negative outcomes, indicating that preventing these childhood traumas would greatly improve health conditions nationwide.
Researchers used data from 25 states and more than 144,000 adults which included ACE questions in the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System from 2015 through 2017. Types of traumatic experiences included abuse, witnessing violence, witnessing substance misuse in the home, and having a parent in jail.
Exposure to a traumatic childhood experience can lead to extreme or repetitive toxic stress responses causing long-term physical and emotional harm, the CDC warns.
Adults with the highest levels of childhood trauma events had higher odds of having chronic health conditions, depression, being current smokers, drinking heavily, and having socioeconomic challenges.
Five of the top 10 leading causes of death are associated with childhood trauma. In addition, one in six adults experienced four or more types of traumatic experiences as a child. Women, as well as African Americans and Native Americans were also more likely to experience four or more traumatic experiences.
The research indicates preventing these experiences could reduce the number of adults with depression by nearly half, leading to 21 million fewer diagnoses of depression.
The CDC’s findings suggest preventing adverse childhood experiences can also help reduce chronic disease, risky health behavior, and socioeconomic challenges later in life. The researchers found that reducing these incidents during childhood can reduce the number of heart disease cases by up to 1.9 million and reduce the incidence of obesity by 2.5 million.
The CDC indicates it is working to educate states and communicates about ACEs and other conditions that put families at risk for these events. Specifically, the agency is focusing on increasing access to programs which help parents and teens learn skills to reduce stress, resolve conflict and reduce violence.
The CDC is encouraging employers to adopt and support family friendly policies, like paid family leave and flexible work schedules. It is also continuing to educate healthcare providers to recognize current risks among children, and refer patients to family services and support programs.
“We now know that adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact on an individual’s future health,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield. “Preventing traumatic experiences in childhood and initiating key interventions when they do occur will lessen long-term health consequences and benefit the physical and emotional well-being of individuals into adulthood.”