Adult health problems linked to childhood traumas

*Reprinted from Kaiser Permanente Member News, Issue 2, 1998

Some of us may spend our later years trying to undo our early ones.

A recent study has shown that adverse childhood experiences are related to health problems in adolescence and adulthood. Our Medical Care Program in San Diego, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University in Atlanta, and the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson studied 19,000 Kaiser Permanente members in the Adverse Childhood Experiences study.

"We questioned members about childhood experiences such as domestic violence; psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; or living with household members who were mentally ill or suicidal, substance abusers, or who were ever imprisoned," says Vincent Felitti, MD, chief of preventive medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Diego, and the lead researcher.

Potential health problems

The study revealed a strong relationship between the number of adverse childhood experiences and the number of adult or adolescent health problems and high-risk behaviors including:

  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Cigarette smoking.
  • Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Alcohol and other substance abuse.
  • Early first intercourse.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Teen pregnancy and paternity.
  • Unintended pregnancy.
  • Obesity and diabetes.
  • Depression and suicide attempts.
  • Physical inactivity.

Healthy Steps program

In response to the study, Kaiser Permanente has committed S2.4 million to family-based intervention program/demonstration projects in four cities, including San Diego. When a child is born to a participating family at a Kaiser Permanente hospital, an intervention team from the Healthy Steps program works with the family to support the child's health and well-being during the first three years of life.

This research was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in May 1998.

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