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Study: Adversity, Trauma Early in Life Increases Likelihood of Poor Health Later

A report released Wednesday showed a strong link between traumatic events in children’s lives and ill health later in life.

Release of the new clinical analysis coincides with Thursday’s convening of a summit in San Francisco on the health ramifications of childhood trauma and adversity. The summit — “Children Can Thrive: California’s Response to Childhood Trauma Experiences” — was organized by the Center for Youth Wellness, which generated yesterday’s report.

The report is based on data acquired by the Public Health Institute, also based in San Francisco. It found that children with four or more adverse childhood experiences were:

  • More than twice as likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease later in life;
  • About twice as likely to have asthma;
  • At much higher risk of kidney disease and stroke;
  • More than five times as likely to suffer from depression; and
  • More than four times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.

Children with early traumatic events in their lives also showed increases in risky health behaviors such as smoking and binge drinking, as well as tendencies to be poor, less educated and unemployed.

“The effects of early adversity on lifetime heath are astounding,” said Nadine Burke Harris, a San Francisco pediatrician and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness. “And the thing is, no one knows about it.”

The report used 10 criteria for adverse childhood experiences, such as physical abuse, parental incarceration and domestic violence in the home.

“One surprising thing is that adverse childhood experiences are really common,” Burke Harris said. She said 61% of those interviewed reported at least one incidence of those adverse events. “And 16% have a score of four or more of them,” she said.

“The other surprising thing to me was that [these events] were consistent across race and ethnicity,” Burke Harris said.

“There is no doubt there is a direct link between early adversity and health outcomes,” Burke Harris said. “The higher your dose of adversity, the more likely you are to have health issues later in life.”

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