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What are 'adverse childhood experiences'? Ask Philadelphia residents

A landmark study that linked early childhood trauma with health problems in adulthood was based mainly on white, middle-class Californians. Are impoverished Philadelphians any different?

» READ MORE: We’ve written a lot

about the

» READ MORE: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study

and the health risks that arise when children experience

. The

was conducted with a predominantly white, middle-class population of adults in California and found a strong relationship between the number of ACEs research participants experienced (e.g., being physically abused as a child, living with mentally ill person) and

(heart disease, smoking). A criticism of the ACE questionnaire, which has since been

that produced some surprising findings, has been that the questions fail to capture stressful experiences that are particularly common in low-income urban communities.

Many among the top 5s were captured in the original ACE questionnaire. For example, family members' abuse of alcohol and drugs made top 5 lists 37 times. Lack of love and support in the family was listed 33 times, as was child abuse.

The most frequent top 5 stressors, however, were not asked originally. Community violence was listed 57 times by the Philadelphia participants. Negative adult behavior in the community, such as ongoing grudges between neighbors, was included 50 times. Stressors related to economic hardship were listed 67 times. Issues related to discrimination, 23 times.

There also were two categories of adverse childhood experiences in the original questionnaire that did not make these participants' top 5 lists. One was growing up with mental illness in the household; the other was parents' separation or divorce. The separation/divorce question might be irrelevant for many because their parents were never together; growing up in a single-parent household was in fact ranked as a top 5 stressor 30 times.

One size does not fit all when it comes to research questionnaires. These findings speak to the need to integrate the voices of socioeconomically diverse groups into study designs.

Read more about The Public's Health.