Social and Behavioral Pathways between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Poor Adult Physical Health: Mediation by Early Adulthood Experiences in a Low-Income Population

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Aug 25;19(17):10578. doi: 10.3390/ijerph191710578.


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) increase the risk of poor health and wellbeing in adulthood. In this study, we tested whether experiences in early adulthood-intimate partner violence (IPV), substance use, social isolation, and work instability-mediate the relationship between ACEs and poor physical health in later adulthood. Using data from a large-scale survey of Medicaid enrollees in the Portland metropolitan area, four separate mediation models were constructed to assess the indirect effects of each early adulthood experience and the proportion of the total effect on physical health accounted for by the pathway. Experiencing four or more ACEs increased the risk of poor adult physical health by 50% (RR 1.50). Considered in separate models, mediation by IPV accounted for 14.4% of the total effect; substance use mediated a similar proportion (14.0%). Social isolation was a less substantial mediator (7.6%). Work instability did not mediate the relationship between ACEs and adult physical health in our population. These findings provide evidence that IPV, substance use, and social isolation in early adulthood are part of the pathway between high ACEs and poor adult physical health. Intervening to prevent negative early adult experiences may mitigate some of the long-term effects of childhood trauma on health.

Keywords: adverse childhood experiences; employment; intimate partner violence; mediation; social isolation; substance use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences*
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence*
  • Poverty
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grants and funding

Support for this article was provided in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, grant number 73140. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.