In 1998, 2 Doctors (Felitti & Anda) examined the results of 10 types of childhood trauma and future health outcomes. They coined the term ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to refer to traumatic events that happen prior to 18 years of age. They include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; physical or emotional neglect; loss of parent through divorce; exposure to domestic violence; having a parent with mental illness; alcohol or drug abuse in the home; and incarceration of a household member. Risk is assessed by adding each ACE for a total potential score of 10.  The study found that ACEs are a critical factor that has a significant effect on long-term health, especially chronic diseases. Risk of chronic disease is especially high if a person has experienced 4+ ACEs. At that level, risk for diabetes goes up 1.6X, doubles for cancer and heart disease, and quadruples for chronic lung disease. It is important to note that the symptoms are not psychological, but rather an indication of how our body’s stress response can lead to disease.  Further research has shown that all kinds of childhood adversity can increase risk for disease including things like being bullied, not being accepted by peers, serious physical illness, or being born prematurely. With all that, it seems improbable to go through childhood without exposure to some trauma.  The good news is that protective factors have also been identified.  Communities that work together to ensure families have access to financial help; medical and mental health services; safe, stable housing; high quality childcare; and engaging education/after-school programs help provide a protective layer to stressors created by ACEs. A child having just one adult to serve as a caring and consistent caregiver provides significant protection against ACES. In addition, employers with family-friendly policies; strong partnerships between business, government, health care and schools; and residents that feel connected to one another are providing protection against ACEs.

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