Story at a glance

  • Health experts are concerned about the long-term effects of adverse events that take place during childhood.
  • These types of events may include divorces, substance abuse or a family member in prison.
  • People who experienced these events in childhood had higher risk for poor mental health as well as disability and chronic physical health problems.

Trauma from childhood can affect a person for the rest of their lives, and some data suggests not just for mental health but also for physical health. Adverse childhood events, or ACEs, can include experiences in the household like violence, substance abuse, mental illness, a family member going to prison and divorce.

In a study published in the academic journal Child Abuse & Neglect, a group of researchers looked at data from almost 3,000 people in New Zealand between March 2017 and March 2019. About 45 percent of the people reported that they did not experience any ACEs while growing up.

The researchers were interested to see how ACEs lined up with adverse and positive physical and mental health outcomes. The study found that having one of any type of ACE was associated with increased risk of poor mental health, including depression and anxiety. They also found that people who experienced two or more ACEs had higher odds of disability, and four or more ACEs was associated with chronic physical health problems.


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“Toxic stressors in childhood can take a lifelong toll on many aspects of our health,” said Janet Fanslow in a press release. “The effects ripple across society to create a huge burden on family and whānau, our health service and the economy.”

The researchers found that ACEs had an adverse effect even if there were positive childhood experiences. They hope that interventions and prevention initiatives can try to address ACEs and their negative impacts.

“Policy and programmes to address child poverty are important in their own right, but will not fully mitigate the effect of adverse childhood experiences,” the study authors wrote.


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Published on Nov 16, 2021