Do your childhood experiences affect you later in life?

Dr. Vincent Felitti could not pinpoint why so many of his clients who participated in his weight loss study could not keep their weight off. Felitti and his medical team had failed to include any questions relating to childhood that could help them to understand why weight loss and sustained weight loss was such an issue. It was not until a particular client, who had dropped almost 200 lbs revealed a history of sexual abuse during a follow up in which she had gained back all of her weight. After getting the go ahead from the Center for Disease Control and collaborating with other physicians did the monumental investigation of Adverse Childhood Experiences begin.

Of the 25,000 Kaiser Permanente patients that go through Department of Preventive Medicine annually, 17,421 agreed to provide information about their childhood experiences. Those answers would then be compared to their medical records that Kaiser kept on hand. After comparing the results, the ACE study found that traumatic childhood experiences are far more common than anyone originally thought. What’s interesting to note, is that those who responded were mostly white, middle class, well-educated, and financially secure adults. In the end, only 1/3 of the respondents did NOT report any adverse childhood experiences.

(Note: The ACE questionnaire is based on 10 questions of potential adverse experiences from childhood including an alcoholic caregiver, abuse of any type, domestic violence, divorce, etc.)

The importance of the study is squarely focused on the fact that childhood trauma can correlate with work absenteeism, financial problems, and lower lifetime income. If you have a high ACE score, then there is a correlation between high risk behaviors like smoking, obesity, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases. Those with an ACE score of 6 or above had a 15 percent or greater chance than those with an ACE score of zero of suffering from any of the ten leading causes of death in the US such as heart disease, liver disease, emphysema, and cancer.

What’s scary is that only now, in 2017 (the study was held from 1995-1997), has the ACE study gained some traction in the mental health world. I had never heard of the study until 2011 and I am now beginning to hear more presentations about it within the counseling field. Why has this study not alarmed people? Why is it not on the news every single day? This study could help us find more proactive ways to help prevent some of these experiences that our children suffer through daily. Furthermore, it could be the research needed to gain more funding for foster care, treatment interventions for families who are struggling, and ways to make reporting of abuse and follow up more effective.

The most costly public health issue, child abuse and the ways in which we respond have remained the same despite this reliable and valid study letting us know the grave impact that these awful experiences have on our children for years to come.

*Information gathered from the CDC website as well as the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van der Kolk