What the ACE Study Tells Us

Our discussion surrounding the impact of trauma to children should include the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and its groundbreaking research related to trauma. The ACE Study correlates a variety of adverse childhood events to the overall health and well-being of adults. The results are almost shocking.

The ACE Study links childhood maltreatment to repercussions on adult health

The ACE Study links childhood maltreatment to issues the child has later in life.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted on the links between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being.

ACE was a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s (Kaiser) Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego. Members of Kaiser’s Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) underwent a comprehensive physical examination in which they provided detailed information about childhood experiences of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

More than 17,000 members chose to participate. To date, over 30 scientific articles have been published and over 100 conference and workshop presentations have been made on the results of this valuable work.

What is an adverse childhood experience?

Fearful young girl
Emotional or physical neglect is a form of child maltreatment recorded in the ACE Study.

According to the study an ACE occurs if one of the following happens to a child before the age of 18:

  • Recurrent physical abuse
  • Recurrent emotional abuse
  • Contact sexual abuse
  • An alcohol and/or drug abuser in the
  • An incarcerated household member
  • Someone who is chronically depressed,
    mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal is in the household
  • The mother is treated violently
  • One or no parents
  • Emotional or physical neglect

The study found that two-thirds of the 17,000 individuals (or more than 11,300) had experienced one or more events.

Participants assigned a score for ACE events

Depressed teen male
The greater number of adverse childhood events experienced, the more likely the greater the adverse adult health issues.

The ACE team assigned a score to each participant based on the frequency and severity of events. The score correlated to the physical and emotional health issues they experienced as adults. In other words, the greater number of adverse childhood events experienced, the more likely the greater the adverse adult health issues. It is an extensive list, as you can see.

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy

Findings show need for safe environment for children

What steps can we take to reduce trauma for our children?

To me, the ACE study’s findings speak powerfully and directly to the significance and consequence of providing our children with a safe and healthy environment to grow and develop. Therefore, if the environment we provide impacts health during childhood and adulthood, what steps can we take to reduce trauma for our children?

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Enhancing Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008.  All rights reserved.  Licensed materials.

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