National Study Presents the Effects of Childhood Adversities Among Americans

Alicia Connelly
Staff Writer

News_Alicia_childhood trauma_U.S. Air Force (Steve White)

PC: U.S Air Force (Steve White)

On Monday, September 17, JAMA Pediatrics released the results of the largest nationally representative study ever, conducting the effects of ACEs in adults. ACE is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences, a subject which has been ignored by many researchers in the past.

The results of this study confirmed that ACEs and chronic health issues later in life are profoundly interrelated and universal, yet there do seem to be some disparities among socioeconomic groups.

The variables that were found to put people at a higher risk included low-income and educational acquisition, being a minority or being a person who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community. People within this group had significantly higher chances of having experienced adversity in childhood.

The study analyzed multiple types of adverse experiences collected from childhood memories recollected by adults that included: divorce, neglect, household mental health illnesses, death of a parent, physical or emotional abuse, parental substance abuse problems or the incarceration of a family member.

Of people who experienced such ACEs, researchers were searching for health issues including substance abuse, depression, asthma, heart disease, mental illness, chronic disease, cancer, prescription drug use and abuse, high-risk sexual behaviors, suicide attempts, fetal mortality and poor dental health.

The results of the study showed that three out of five adults across the United States have had a minimum of one ACE in their lifetime, and that a quarter of adults have had at least three such experiences. According to the study, this increases the risk for most common chronic diseases, and even increases a person’s risk of early mortality.

An earlier study called “The Landmark ACE Study” was conducted by The Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in partnership with Kaiser Permanente. This study lasted from 1995 to 1997 with more than 17,000 participants. This study found pragmatic results; 28 percent of study participants reported physical abuse and 21 percent recalled sexual abuse.

Nearly 40 percent of the Kaiser Permanente abstraction noted two or more ACEs. 12.5 percent experience four or more ACEs. Comprehensively, as researchers analyzed the participants over time, they found that a person’s cumulative ACE score has a relevant relationship to various health, social and mental issues through their lives.

Comparatively, the more recent JAMA Pediatrics study showed that these numbers have increased substantially. In this more recent study, the researchers, led by the CDC and Prevention researcher Melissa T. Merrick, evaluated data from 214,157 adults in 23 states between 2011 and 2014.

The data showed that nearly 62 percent of participants had experienced at least one ACE in their lifetime, while 25 percent had experienced two ACEs.  Nearly 16 percent had experienced four or more ACEs.

With regard to socioeconomic status, the rates for minorities and LGBTQ+ members were substantially higher than their straight and white peers.

The highest results in the study, were multiracial participants who reported roughly 2.5 ACEs, and bisexual adults who reported 3.1

Adam Schickendanz, The assistant professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, stated that “this [study] shows that ACEs affect people from all walks of life everywhere.”

Schickendanz also noted that, while the disparities amongst groups do exist, it is important to recognize that these sorts of experiences prevail amongst all people, including middle class, white families.

“…this is the first study of this kind that allows us to talk about adverse childhood experience as a public health problem in the same way we talk about obesity or hypertension or any other highly prevalent population risk factor,” said Schickendanz. “Up until now, we haven’t really had a study that takes a national look.”

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