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U.S. health officials find a strong link between early instances of childhood trauma and adult chronic diseases ranging from heart disease and asthma to kidney disease and depression
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a link between childhood adversity and adult illnesses such as cancer, asthma, diabetes, depression and heart disease, leading researchers and health officials to suggest a reduction in childhood trauma could reduce the growing rate of adult chronic illness.
Adverse Childhood Experiences Linked to Adult Chronic Disease
Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) include physical, emotional and sexual abuse in childhood and have been linked to multiple negative health and socioeconomic challenges in adulthood.
These effects include obesity, heavy smoking and drinking, unemployment and failure to complete high school.[i] Household dysfunction and childhood abuse have been linked to the leading causes of disease in adults.[ii] Additional health risks associated with ACE include:[iii]
Coronary Heart Disease
Cancer (excluding skin)
Non-medical outcomes associated with high rates of ACE include higher rates of incarceration, increased substance abuse, lower academic achievement, unemployment and suicidal behavior.
Research and Results
Experiencing adverse events in childhood is extremely common. Among the adults in the study, 60.9% experienced at least one type of ACE, while 15.6% experienced four or more. Reducing such traumas could lead to significantly better health in adulthood, potentially eliminating 27% of pulmonary conditions, 23% of cases of heavy alcohol consumption and 44% of depression cases among adults.
Researchers were quick to point out that this study does not prove direct causation between ACE and adult-onset diseases and more research is needed to understand any potential connections.
However, the strong link between the two is cause for concern, and hope: By reducing instances of childhood trauma and increasing public awareness, the occurrence of many of the diseases causing adult morbidity could be reduced while also keeping our most vulnerable population safe.
Reducing the Occurrence of Childhood Trauma
Based on these findings, efforts to prevent childhood trauma could potentially reduce the prevalence of the cancer, obesity, heart disease and the many other diseases linked to ACE.
The study lists the creation of stronger communities and parental support as a method to reduce the incidence of childhood trauma and suggests using the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences page and corresponding literature on Preventing ACE as an online resource for neighborhoods to create stable and nurturing environments for youth. Examples of these preventative measures include:
- Stable work environments with family-friendly work policies
- Public education campaigns promoting positive parenting practices
- High-quality childhood care
- Emotional learning programs to increase youth resilience to handle emotional stress
- Mentoring programs that connect children to stable and nurturing adults
- Intervention strategies
- Promoting social norms that protect against violence
Implementing such safety precautions in homes and neighborhoods and encouraging stable home environments for children could be a vital step in preventing later illness.
Unnecessary Childhood Medical Trauma
In addition to trauma experienced in the home, research shows that early, unnecessary medical trauma may be a contributing factor in adult disease progression. Infants born in hospitals or in need of intense medical care may be subjected to painful and traumatic experiences such as cesarean deliveries, blood tests, male circumcisions and vaccinations, often without suitable pain relief medications.[v]
In light of the CDC's study, these often unnecessary procedures should be considered carefully. For more information on birth trauma and possible side effects, or to learn about natural birthing options, visit our GMI Natural Birth Resource Page.
[i] Merrick MT, Ford DC, Ports KA, et al. Vital Signs: Estimated Proportion of Adult Health Problems Attributable to Adverse Childhood Experiences and Implications for Prevention -- 25 States, 2015-2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:999-1005.
[ii] Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults Felitti, Vincent J et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 14, Issue 4, 245 - 258
[iii] Merrick MT, Ford DC, Ports KA, et al. Vital Signs: Estimated Proportion of Adult Health Problems Attributable to Adverse Childhood Experiences and Implications for Prevention -- 25 States, 2015-2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2019;68:999-1005.
Katie Ports-Dawn Holman-Angie Guinn-Sanjana Pampati-Karen Dyer-Melissa Merrick-Natasha Lunsford-Marilyn Metzler - Journal of Pediatric Nursing - 2019