One in six Californians has experienced severe childhood trauma, which is strongly linked to serious health problems in adulthood, according to a new study released today by the Center for Youth Wellness, a San Francisco health organization, and the Public Health Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting health.
Researchers analyzed years of the state’s public health data in 28,000 people to provide a snapshot of the impact that Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, has on California and its residents. The picture isn’t pretty.
“The findings clearly illustrate that ACEs are a public health crisis with far reaching consequences on the health and well-being of Californians,” according to the report, “A Hidden Crisis,” which wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal. Instead, the Center for Youth Wellness self-published the study.
The term ACEs refers to the childhood abuse, neglect, and general household dysfunction that negatively affect a child’s development to the point of long lasting health consequences later in life. The more ACEs a child experiences, the higher the ACE score and the greater the likelihood of health problems as an adult. The ACEs scale goes from 0-10.
People with particularly agonizing childhoods, scoring 4 or more ACEs, are 13 times more likely to have been placed in child welfare; they have less education, less money and are more likely to be unemployed, according to the study.
They are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide, 10 times more likely to inject drugs and 7 times more likely to be an alcoholic, according to research.
It doesn’t end there. A long list of potential physical health problems includes: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, kidney disease and stroke. People with high numbers of ACEs are also more likely to suffer from depression or be diagnosed with dementia.
But not all is lost for people with traumatic childhoods.
“We know that the effects of trauma on development and health are not a foregone conclusion,” said Emily Ozer, a public health professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who had no involvement in the study and was speaking generally about ACEs. “Two decades of research has shown that there are important protective factors such as social support that can help buffer the effects of trauma.”
The original ACE Study was conducted by Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente and Robert Anda of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1998. But the 32-page Hidden Crisis report is the first such study to use a population-based survey with a sample size representative of California, according to Marta Induni, research director at the Public Health Institute.
The report’s findings were based on data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a random telephone survey done each year by the California Department of Public Health. All the data were self-reported. Researchers were able to break down the impact of ACEs for each county in California.
Brian Rinker is a graduate student of journalism and public health at the University of California, Berkeley.