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Growing Up in the U.S. is Not Good for Your Health!

Recent studies are shedding new light on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on mental and physical development.  ACEs are intense negative experiences or events that occur between the ages of birth and 17.  One study looked at the prevalence of 8 ACEs among children in the US.

The research is not encouraging.  Study authors, Vanessa Sacks and David Murphy, found that 45% of of children in the U.S. have experienced 1 or more ACEs and 11% have experienced 3 or more!  In communities of color, the statistics are even more stark: 61% of African American children and 51% of Latino children have experienced 1 or more ACEs.   The most common ACEs are economic hardship (defined as “difficulty in providing food and shelter somewhat or very often.”) and divorce.

Children who experience trauma not only experience mental distress, they also are more likely to develop chronic physical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and auto-immune diseases.   According to researcher, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician and author of The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, experience of an ACE releases the stress hormone cortisol into the blood stream.  If prolonged, cortisol becomes toxic to the body and has even been shown to reshape the way the brain functions.

Her research also reveals that children who experience a high number of ACEs are more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to turn to substance abuse, and more likely to experience learning and behavioral problems.  They are also more likely to experience depression and attempt suicide.

Dr. Burke Harris has become an outspoken advocate for a national public health campaign to address toxic stress in children and screening children for ACEs.  She recently delivered a TED Talk on the impact of childhood trauma.

If we are going to be a healing community, we must work to reduce childhood trauma in all it’s forms.

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