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Our Adult Bodies Hold onto Childhood Pain (Part 2)

Using a scale of 1 to 10 - the higher the score, the more bad things happened in childhood - researchers were able to link trauma as a child with health problems as an adult. You can easily calculate your own score.

Why were some people – indeed, some of the most successful at slimming down – more likely than others to drop out of a weight-loss program?

Felitti and Anda recruited 17,337 adult members of Kaiser, the giant Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) based in California. The majority of those who participated in the study were white and middle class. Each underwent a physical examination and answered questions about things that might have happened to them through age 18. The questions spanned 10 categories:

  1. Emotional abuse

  2. Physical abuse

  3. Sexual abuse

  4. Emotional neglect

  5. Physical neglect

  6. Domestic violence

  7. Substance abuse

  8. Mental illness

  9. Parental separation/divorce

  10. Incarceration

When the initial results appeared in 1998, they were astounded.

Second was the uncanny strength of the relationship between the number of ACEs and unhealthy behaviors and poor health outcomes. A person with an ACE score of 2 had significantly more health risk than a person with a score of 1, a person with an ACE score of 3 had significantly more health risk than the person with a score of 2, and so on all the way up to 10. The people with scores of 9 or 10 generally were in the poorest health.

So what could it be about childhood trauma and adversity that might make us do unhealthy things and put us at higher risk for poor health outcomes? And what are the implications of these findings?

These questions will be explored in my next post, on Monday.

This three-part ACE mini-series begins the exploration of a topic – trauma  and health – that I will return to periodically. Upcoming posts will examine issues like urban violence, the "science of trauma," and what people in Philadelphia are doing to address these issues.

Read more about The Public's Health.