ACEs Study

Mechanism by which Adverse Childhood Experiences Influence Health and Well-being Throughout the Lifespan graphicACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are potentially traumatic events that occur before the age of 18 that increase the risk of negative, lasting effects on a person’s health and well-being.

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACEs study is one of the largest investigations of how household challenges and childhood abuse and neglect impact health and well-being later in life. The original study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997 in two waves of data collection. Over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) members from Southern California completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and their current health and behaviors while receiving physical exams.

Although there are many more ACEs, the ten that were used in the original study were:

    1. Physical abuse
    2. Emotional abuse
    3. Sexual abuse
    4. Physical neglect
    5. Emotional neglect
    6. Mother physically abused
    7. Parent incarcerated
    8. Parental substance abuse
    9. Unmanaged mental illness
    10. Caregiver absence through separation or divorce

The ACEs study led to further research into childhood trauma and its effects on health outcomes across an individuals lifespan. This type of study has now been done numerous times in different populations, and has expanded to include other adverse experiences, such as living in foster care, homelessness, death of a loved one, bullying, medical crises, and immigration and racial trauma.

The first finding of the ACEs Study was that ACEs are common. About 61% of adults surveyed across 25 states reported experiencing at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.

The second finding was that there is a direct correlation between the number of ACEs and lifelong health outcomes. Childhood trauma can impair immune processes and lead to stress hormones flooding the body. This, in turn, can impair the immune process and lead to chronic disease later in life, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even cancer. For those with 6 or more ACEs, the life expectancy was 20 years shorter than people with no ACEs.

More information about the study may be found here: Felitti V. Adverse childhood experiences and adult health [145.14 KB, 3 Pages, Print Only]. Acad Pediatr. 2009;9:131-132. About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC

A 5-minute film about ACEs may be seen here:

(click image to enlarge)

ACEs are Not Destiny:

“It’s never too late to begin healing from ACEs. What this information, and what the science does, is it gives us tools to be able to determine our own futures.”  

– Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris