Tough Childhoods Can Leave a Lifetime of Harm, Experts Say

Tough Childhoods Can Leave a Lifetime of Harm, Experts Say

Traumatic experiences in childhood can do lifelong harm to physical and mental health, education and work, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

Preventing traumatic childhood experiences - such as abuse, seeing violence or substance abuse in the home, or having a parent in jail - could reduce many problems later on, according to the CDC.

Among them: chronic illnesses, such as heart and respiratory disease, cancer, diabetes and suicide; risky health behaviors, such as substance abuse; and socioeconomic struggles later in life.

At least five of the top 10 causes of death in the United States are associated with what the CDC calls adverse childhood experiences.

In the first-ever CDC analysis of the issue, researchers analyzed 2015-2017 data from more than 144,000 adults in 25 states. The findings were published Nov. 5 in a Vital Signs report.

The study found that adults who reported the highest level of traumatic childhood experiences were more likely to have chronic health problems and depression, to smoke and drink, and to be unemployed.

Women, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, and black Americans were more likely to report four or more traumatic experiences, the findings showed.

Based on 2017 estimates, the CDC said preventing such childhood trauma could have avoided up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease in U.S. adults and reduced the number of adults who were overweight or obese by up to 2.5 million. It could also have reduced the number of adults with depression by as much as 44% (up to 21 million avoided cases).

"We now know that adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact on an individual's future health," CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said in an agency news release.

"Preventing traumatic experiences in childhood and initiating key interventions when they do occur will lessen long-term health consequences, and benefit the physical and emotional well-being of individuals into adulthood," Redfield said.

The CDC has several efforts to prevent childhood trauma and reduce the harmful effects of such experiences. They include educating states and communities about ways to reduce financial hardship and other family conditions that put children at risk; encouraging employers to adopt family-friendly policies, such as paid leave and flexible work schedules; and increasing access to programs that improve parents' and children's ability to handle stress, resolve conflicts and reduce violence.

Other efforts include teaching health care providers to recognize the current risk in children and a history of childhood trauma in adults, and to refer patients to family services and support.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Nov. 5, 2019.

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