Decades of scientific investigation guides our work to solve this public health crisis

May 11, 2024 in

Decades of Research Driving Our Mission to Address a Public Health Crisis

Years of scientific research underpin our efforts to address the critical public health issue posed by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Studies indicate that the hardships we endure as children can extend into adulthood, affecting education, lifestyle, and health. These challenges are often indicators of ACEs and toxic stress.

The promising news is that early identification of ACEs allows for timely intervention. Recognizing these signs early means that children and families can access necessary services sooner, helping to prevent or mitigate the long-term effects of these experiences.

Insights from the Landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

Originating from the groundbreaking 1998 study by Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the concept of "Adverse Childhood Experiences," or "ACEs," has become fundamental in understanding childhood stress. This extensive research project, one of the largest of its kind, explored the relationship between childhood adversity—including abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction—and long-term health.

Participants were assigned an "ACE score" based on the number of adversities they reported. The findings of the study were profound:

  • ACEs are remarkably common, with 67% of participants reporting at least one ACE.
  • The presence of four or more ACEs was noted in 13% of the study group.
  • The likelihood of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease or lung cancer triples with a high ACE score.
  • A high ACE score can reduce life expectancy by up to 20 years if left unaddressed.

The Far-reaching Effects of Toxic Stress

When children are exposed to intense and prolonged stress without the protective presence of a supportive adult, significant changes can occur in their brain and body:

  • Nervous System: Changes in the brain, including the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala, can lead to cognitive impairments and increase the risk of learning disabilities, attention deficits, hyperactivity, and anxiety.
  • Cardiovascular System: Chronic stress can elevate blood pressure and inflammation levels, damaging arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Immune System: Increased susceptibility to infections and autoimmune diseases can arise from prolonged inflammation and alterations in the body's immune responses.
  • Endocrine System: Toxic stress can affect growth and development, potentially leading to obesity and altered puberty timing, among other health issues.

Understanding the profound impact of ACEs and toxic stress guides our commitment to addressing this public health challenge through education, support, and advocacy. By leveraging groundbreaking research and implementing targeted interventions, we strive to alter the trajectory of affected lives, fostering healthier futures for children and adults alike.

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