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How Childhood Trauma Affects Your Health
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Childhood trauma, also referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACE), is far more common than you think. Not only are ACE’s common, but they are also indicative of significant health issues to come later in life. Dr. Robert Block, the former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, mentioned the seriousness of ACE when saying:
“Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today”
Contrary to popular belief, childhood trauma isn’t something you easily overcome as you get older. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated toxic stress from abuse, neglect, and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. People who have experienced high levels of childhood trauma are at 3x the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. Arguably more staggering was that people who were exposed to ACE in very high doses have a 20 year difference in life expectancy.
Although these findings are shocking, it's a wonder why more people aren't aware of this and talking about it. Luckily, Dr. Burke is leading the charge for pediatric medicine to make drastic changes to the treatment and early prevention of trauma. What drove her passion in this field was one particular research study that she came across that was conducted by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda. The “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study” asked 17,500 adults about their history of exposure to ACE's, and the results were impossible to ignore.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) in the study were defined as any of the following:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Parental mental illness,
- Parental substance dependence
- Parental incarceration
- Parental separation
- Parental divorce
- Domestic violence
Roughly 10,500 of the people surveyed, or 60%, admitted to having at least 1 ACE. 12.6% of the adults were found to have 4 or more ACE’s. The number of ACE’s in these study participants showed a direct correlation to health issues and unhealthy behaviors as adults. According to Nadine the science is clear: “Early adversity dramatically affects health across a lifetime”.
We encourage you to watch Nadine’s full TedTalk which covers additional details about her case for taking action to address this issue as the major public health problem that it is.