The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study findings suggest that certain adverse childhood experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study
Our future relies on the healthy growth and development of today’s children. As adults we are responsible for ensuring all children have the safe, stable, nurturing, and healthy environments they need to thrive. When children have supportive, loving relationships with adults their brain architecture is built in a healthy way, forming a solid foundation for future growth and development.
Child abuse and neglect disrupt healthy brain architecture and cause a toxic stress reaction to occur in the child’s brain. Harmful chemicals flood the child’s brain and body resulting in long-term social, emotional, and health consequences. Progress in preventing and recovering from the nation’s worst health and social problems is likely to benefit from understanding that many of these problems arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.
In 1995, Kaiser Permanente began asking their members if they would provide detailed information about their childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. Over 17,000 members participated. The results were enlightening.
What is the ACE Study?
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations of the link between childhood maltreatment and health and well-being later in life. Using data from 17,000 participants, the study which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente, demonstrates that trauma and adverse experiences during childhood are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death in United States, as well as for poor quality of life.
What are the ACEs?
The study defines “adverse childhood experiences” as exposure to:
- child abuse
- domestic violence
- household members abusing alcohol or drugs
- other traumatic stressors
The ACE Study uses the ACE Score, which is a count of the total number of ACEs respondents reported. The ACE Score is used to measure the total amount of stress in childhood.
Almost two-thirds of the participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. The short- and long-term outcomes of these childhood exposures include a multitude of health and social problems. As the number of ACEs increase, the risk for health problems later in life increase. The following health problems have been linked to adverse childhood experiences:
- Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Fetal death
- Health-related quality of life
- Illicit drug use
- Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
- Liver disease
- Risk for intimate partner violence
- Lung Cancer
- Autoimmune disease
- Multiple sexual partners
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Suicide attempts
- Unintended pregnancies
- Early initiation of smoking
- Early initiation of sexual activity
- Adolescent pregnancy
The ACE Pyramid
Adverse experiences in childhood (ACES) disrupt normal child development, negatively impacting children’s social, emotional and cognitive development.
This leaves children vulnerable, causing many of them to adopt risky health and social behaviors such as drinking, overeating, smoking and sexual promiscuity as a means of coping with the traumas they have experienced.
These risky behaviors translate into poor health, disease, disability and early death.
Why Prevention is Important
Our children are our future parents, workers, and leaders, and they need safe, stable, nurturing environments that foster their healthy growth and devevlopment. Adverse experiences in childhood disrupt normal child development, negatively impacting their brain architecture. Such impairment leaves children vulnerable and without a strong foundation for future growth. Many children and adolescents adopt risky health and social behaviors such as drinking, overeating, smoking and sexual promiscuity as a means of coping with the traumas they have experienced. Eventually, these risky behaviors translate into poor health, disease, disability and early death.
View our NC Pediatric Society mailer with more information for pediatricians on ACEs, the Protective Factors, and resources for your work.
For More Information about the ACE Study, visit the Center for Disease Control’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.
For more information about how PCANC works to reduce ACEs in NC communities, call 919.829.8009.