Released Tuesday, the report notes that individuals who have undergone adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at a higher risk of having poor socioeconomic opportunities, health and health risks as an adult.
The CDC describes ACEs as events in which a child experiences or witnesses violence, abuse, or neglect either in their home or elsewhere in their environment. Some instances may even include a family member attempting or committing suicide, substance abuse, mental health issues or instability resulting from separation from one’s parents. Childhood is defined as ages 0-17.
“Exposure to adverse childhood experiences can be traumatic, evoking toxic stress responses that have immediate and long-term adverse physiologic and psychologic impacts. These adverse childhood experiences can derail optimal health and development by altering gene expression, brain connectivity and function, immune system function, and organ function,” reads the study.
“Adverse childhood experiences have been linked to increased risk for alcohol and substance use disorders, suicide, mental health conditions, heart disease, other chronic illnesses, and health risk behaviors throughout life.”
Researchers found that more than 60% of adults participating in the study had experienced at least one type of ACE, and nearly 16% of the participants indicated they had experienced four or more.
The study found that individuals who had witnessed the highest levels of ACEs were at a higher risk for chronic health conditions such as obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression; they were also more likely to smoke, drink heavily and suffer from bouts of unemployment.
Compared to the 6,781 male participants who stated that they experienced four or more traumatic events in their youth, a total of 11,569 women reported suffering from more than four experiences. Of the six reported races and ethnicities, the top three groups among individuals who were exposed to ACEs were white, black and Hispanic.
In a recent call with reporters on the matter, Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, noted that the traumatic experiences were also tied to at least five of the top causes of death in the US: heart disease, respiratory diseases, diabetes, suicide and cancer.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Schuchat also stressed that while it may not be possible to avoid traumatic events entirely, “there are many opportunities to prevent ACEs from happening in the first place and to help those who have experienced ACEs.”
The CDC found that strengthening economic support for families and creating preschool enrichment programs, social emotional learning programs and afterschool programs, among other options, helps to prevent ACEs.
“Prevention of adverse childhood experiences is possible with state and community efforts to build resilient families and communities, provide parental support to develop positive parenting and coping skills, and increase access to, and use of, comprehensive health services,” the findings state.
Officials conducted the study by pulling data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based telephone survey that questions individuals on a range of health conditions and risk behaviors. Data used for the research was collected from 2015 to 2017, and included a total of 144,017 respondents from 25 states.