Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 7.24.46 PMDoes it all go back to childhood or not? 

Problems with universal generalizations aside, do we get to blame everything on our childhoods?  I don’t know about that, but apparently the connection between early childhood abuse and later health and behavioral problems is stronger than was previously recognized. A groundbreaking study by the Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente surveyed 17,000 adults to examine the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and current behavioral and medical health issues.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

The questionnaire assesses for 10 different adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). It was another confirmation that a lot of people experience trauma in their childhood.  Almost 2/3 (63%) of people had at least one of these experiences in childhood. More than 1 in 5 had greater than 2 categories:

  • 11% emotional abuse.
  • 28% physical abuse.
  • 21% sexual abuse.
  • 15% emotional neglect.
  • 10% physical neglect.
  • 13% witnessed their mothers being treated violently.
  • 27% grew up with someone in the household using alcohol and/or drugs.
  • 19% grew up with a mentally-ill person in the household.
  • 23% lost a parent due to separation or divorce.
  •  5% grew up with a household member in jail or prison.

This is a lot of trauma. And what’s especially striking is that these are people who are solidly middle class—they have good insurance and are not homeless and generally not on disability (having worked with both populations, I see an extraordinary amount of trauma there).  About 75% of ACEs participants have college degrees.

So what happens to folks with ACEs?

It gets even more compelling when researchers looked at outcomes.  Here is the list of conditions that are more likely to occur when people have higher numbers of ACEs:

alcoholism and alcohol abuse
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
poor health-related quality of life
illicit drug use
ischemic heart disease (IHD)
liver disease
intimate partner violence
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
suicide attempts
unintended pregnancies

Yikes! This completely changes the conversation when comparing cost of childhood abuse prevention vs. child abuse.  Prior to this study, cost analyses of child abuse did not include health issues, and this substantially increases the estimate of the financial toll. What’s especially frustrating is that there are programs that have been successful in preventing child abuse. Yet, child abuse prevention continues to be underfunded and underrepresented in the conversation about health epidemics. There have been 26 cases of measles in the current outbreak, yet today an estimated 108 children were sexually assaulted, just one type of adverse experience.

It is time to change the conversation.  Contact your state representative today and tell him/her that you want to see funding and legislation on prevent childhood abuse and neglect.