CDC Releases Report on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Recommends Primary Prevention Approaches

This week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) estimating the proportion of adult health problems attributable to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The CDC’s Vital Signs report also covers the topic of ACEs and details opportunities for preventing ACEs.

According to the CDC, nearly 16 percent of adults in its study population of 25 states reported four or more types of ACEs, which are significantly associated with poorer health outcomes, health risk behaviors, and socioeconomic challenges. 61 percent of adults had a least one ACE, and females and several racial/ethnic minority groups were at greater risk for experiencing four or more ACEs. Additionally, young adults reported exposure to more ACEs than older adults, particularly those aged 65 and over. According to the CDC, many people do not realize that exposure to ACEs is associated with increased risk for health problems across the lifespan.

The CDC recommends the utilization of primary prevention strategies in curbing ACEs, particularly through the creation of safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families. Other recommended best practices for state and local governments, healthcare providers, employers, and residents include:

  • Strengthening economic supports for families (e.g. earned income tax credits, family-friendly work policies);
  • Promoting social norms that protect against violence and adversity (e.g. public education campaigns to support parents and positive parenting, bystander approaches to support healthy relationship behaviors);
  • Ensuring a strong start for children (e.g. early childhood home visitation, high quality childcare, preschool enrichment programs);
  • Enhancing skills to help parents and youths handle stress, manage emotions, and tackle everyday challenges (e.g. social emotional learning programs, safe dating and healthy relationship skill programs, parenting skill and family relationship approaches);
  • Connecting youths to caring adults and activities (e.g. mentoring and after school programs); and
  • Intervening to lessen immediate and long-term harms through enhanced primary care to identify and address ACE exposures with screening, referral, and support, victim-centered services, and advancement of trauma-informed care for children, youths, and adults with a history of ACE exposures.

The CDC determines that preventing ACEs through these various strategies could reduce a significant number of health conditions, including up to 21 million cases of depression, up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease, and up to 2.5 million cases of overweight or obesity.

The CDC Vital Signs report is available here, and the CDC MMWR report is available here.