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Adverse Childhood Experiences and our Health: What’s the Connection?

Ever since the dawn of the modern age of psychology, there has been a debate about how we become the adults we are. The short-hand description of this debate was “Nature or Nurture”. Are we born with innate traits that make some people criminals and other people humanitarians? Interestingly, as the science and technology of brain research and genetics has advanced, some have thought these advancements would help clarify or settle the argument. While newer science has clarified some issues, the best that can be said is that we are who and what we are as a result of both nature and nurture.

Whatever else we have learned, we know that one’s adult health status is very strongly affected by the experiences one has as a child. This is something to consider especially in February which is American Heart Health Month. The pioneering research of Dr. V. J. Felitti and Dr. R. F. Anda has given us ample evidence that if you experience a number of traumatic and highly stressful events in childhood, your entire health status will definitely be affected. We are, of course, referring to Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Perhaps one of the more surprising things this study funded by Kaiser Permanente revealed was that Adverse Childhood Experiences were not all that uncommon. It has been estimated that as much as 25% of the adult population has had some of these experiences which include absent parents, alcohol or drug abuse by a parent, violence, some manner of neglect and emotional abuse as well as physical and sexual abuse. People who have enough of these experiences are likely to develop high risk and unhealthy coping mechanisms including smoking, over eating, drug and alcohol abuse and lack of exercise. Hence, morbid obesity, addiction, depression and even Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease occur with much greater frequency with these people. Those who advocate hands-off methods to struggling families should know that not only will the specific families and their children be victims, but we will all pay a higher price for health and mental health care as well as for the criminal justice system.

To learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), visit

– Lee E. Grogg

Ryther’s CEO/Executive Director

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