Introduction: Adverse childhood experiences, such as violence victimization, substance misuse in the household, or witnessing intimate partner violence, have been linked to leading causes of adult morbidity and mortality. Therefore, reducing adverse childhood experiences is critical to avoiding multiple negative health and socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood.
Methods: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data were collected from 25 states that included state-added adverse childhood experience items during 2015-2017. Outcomes were self-reported status for coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer (excluding skin cancer), kidney disease, diabetes, depression, overweight or obesity, current smoking, heavy drinking, less than high school completion, unemployment, and lack of health insurance. Logistic regression modeling adjusting for age group, race/ethnicity, and sex was used to calculate population attributable fractions representing the potential reduction in outcomes associated with preventing adverse childhood experiences.
Results: Nearly one in six adults in the study population (15.6%) reported four or more types of adverse childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes, health risk behaviors, and socioeconomic challenges. Potential percentage reductions in the number of observed cases as indicated by population attributable fractions ranged from 1.7% for overweight or obesity to 23.9% for heavy drinking, 27.0% for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and 44.1% for depression.
Conclusions and implications for public health practice: Efforts that prevent adverse childhood experiences could also potentially prevent adult chronic conditions, depression, health risk behaviors, and negative socioeconomic outcomes. States can use comprehensive public health approaches derived from the best available evidence to prevent childhood adversity before it begins. By creating the conditions for healthy communities and focusing on primary prevention, it is possible to reduce risk for adverse childhood experiences while also mitigating consequences for those already affected by these experiences.