How Does Childhood Stress Cause Serious Health Issues?

How Does Childhood Stress Cause Serious Health Issues?

By  Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.

A previous article on this website detailed “How Does Stress Impact Child Development?” (June 2017), based on an extensive study at Harvard University.  A more recent study provided more powerful data about these risks (www.KenPopeStudyAbuseDysfunctionCausesofDeath).

A large HMO provided data from 9,508 adults.  Seven types of “adverse childhood experiences” (ACE) were identified:

  • abuse of a psychological, physical or sexual nature;
  • violence against the mother;
  • living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever in prison.

These ACE’s were then compared to instances of adult risk behaviors, health status, and disease, to see if there was a relationship between them.

Perhaps surprisingly, more than half the respondents reported at least one type of ACE;  one-fourth reported two or more types of ACE in their childhood.  With increased numbers of ACE’s, there was a higher likelihood of  diseases or risk behaviors for the adults.

In fact, if the adults had four or more instances of childhood exposure to stress, they had a greater risk of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression or suicide attempts at a rate of 4 to 12 times greater than adults who had experienced no ACE’s.  Their chances of smoking, having health rated as poor, having 50 or more sexual partners, and having a sexually transmitted disease was 2 to 4 times more likely than adults with no ACE’s.  Their risks of physical inactivity and severe obesity was  1.4 to 1.6 times as likely.

The specific diseases as adults that were more likely included heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease.  Adults with several ACE’s in different categories were likely to have more than one health risk factor.

These results substantiate the Harvard study, and support even more the need for early intervention with children growing up in families that have these stresses.  It is imperative for the child’s current needs and development, but for longer-term well-being and health as well.

Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310  539-2772 or dralanms@gmail.com .

Copyright 2019 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.

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