February 4, 2019

How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime

Although the research originated in the late '90s, the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study continues to be a source of discussion in various arenas - secular and within the church.

It is recommended that the importance of the study be discussed in pediatricians’ offices and schools. Andrews University is intentionally looking at the 10-point questionnaire which gives the ACE “score” while considering risk and protective factors for our youth.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with Kaiser Permanente sought to research a long-term study for follow-up in regards to health outcomes. Originally, the intent was to look at obesity, diabetes and other health concerns that affect Americans daily. Surprising to the researchers was the fact that if an individual struggled as a child due to traumatic events such as abuse, neglect or having a parent in prison, these could develop significantly to “epidemic” proportions, affecting their physical health later in life. Not only were the percentages high in impact to physical health concerns, but other risks increased such as alcoholism, drug use, depression, suicidal tendencies and the ability to maintain employment on a consistent basis. 

Sometimes in our churches, we pride ourselves, believing that because we have an excellent health message, good schools, and a focus on children and families, our children are untouched by adverse childhood events. The ideal score would be zero but, sadly, that is not always the case.  

For example: Did you often feel that no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or that your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? Were your parents ever separated or divorced? How would your child answer this question?

All parents can pause and answer the questions on the full questionnaire for themselves as your own childhood can affect how you parent. Then look at it through the eyes of your own child(ren). How would he/she answer the questions?  Note that even a score of 1 can have significant impact, but of great concern is a score of 4 or more.  

If completing the questionnaire finds you worried at what you see, please reach out, talk to your child’s teacher, doctor or school social worker, and seek some counseling.   

The CDC refers to the importance of providing stable, safe and nurturing relationships and environments as a way to increase the protective factors for a child, even if they score on the scale. If your child already has this type of environment, is there a child around you that may need support which you could help provide? Once again, science and research lead us to recall how God’s promise is to restore all things. Let us intentionally seek ways to increase protective factors for all children.


ACE questionnaire:theannainstitute.org/Finding%20Your%20ACE%20Score.pdf

ACE Study: cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

TedTalk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: ted.com/speakers/nadine_burke_harris_1

Cover photo by Jude Beck