The Adverse Childhood Experience study (CDC)

Under my post Adult Poverty and Scapegoat-hood: A Connection?,  one of my commenters (katiesdream2004) mentioned a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the mid-late 90’s that researched the connection between adverse childhood experiences (which includes emotional abuse by parents and early caregivers) and ill health and general low quality of life in adulthood.  I decided to Google it and here’s what I found.

From their webpage:


The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

More than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) members undergoing a comprehensive physical examination chose to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. To date, more than 50 scientific articles have been published and more than100 conference and workshop presentations have been made.

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. It is critical to understand how some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences. Realizing these connections is likely to improve efforts towards prevention and recovery.

A correlation was found:

Childhood abuse, neglect, and exposure to other traumatic stressors which we term adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are common. Almost two-thirds of our study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one of five reported three or more ACE. The short- and long-term outcomes of these childhood exposures include a multitude of health and social problems.

The ACE Study uses the ACE Score, which is a total count of the number of ACEs reported by respondents. The ACE Score is used to assess the total amount of stress during childhood and has demonstrated that as the number of ACE increase, the risk for the following health problems increases in a strong and graded fashion:

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Fetal death
Health-related quality of life
Illicit drug use
Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
Liver disease
Risk for intimate partner violence
Multiple sexual partners
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Suicide attempts
Unintended pregnancies
Early initiation of smoking
Early initiation of sexual activity
Adolescent pregnancy

None of this should be surprising. Abuse early in life, whether emotional or physical, takes a huge toll on a person’s sense of self-worth and these people tend to enter adulthood lacking the emotional, financial and practical tools others have to create a healthy and successful life. They also lack the support systems others do, and I would guess the enormous stress of facing challenges that others get help with also has ill effects on health and wellbeing.

I did notice the list mainly includes unhealthy life “choices” such as smoking, illicit drug taking, and early pregnancy. However, I also see depression and general health problems on the list too. I’d include other mental illnesses such as PTSD, Complex PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder, and Social Anxiety, all which interfere with a person’s ability to function well in the working world and in interpersonal relationships. These mental disorders could also cause a person to make “bad choices” such as smoking or sexual promiscuity.  Some, like Social Anxiety or Avoidant Personality Disorder, could cause a person who doesn’t engage in unhealthy behaviors, to be afraid to take any risks in life, limiting their opportunities and setting them up for failure.

More research needs to be done, particularly on the connection between emotional/narcissistic abuse during childhood and poverty later in life.

You can read more on their website: