By Anna Matteo | VOA Learning English
Can abuse, violence and neglect during childhood affect a person’s physical and mental health later in life? United States health officials say the answer to that question is “yes.”
Researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that childhood trauma can lead to many conditions and illnesses in adulthood.
Traumatic experiences can also lead to a lower quality of life.
Researchers found that such events can lead to fewer educational and employment opportunities in the future.
The director of the CDC is Robert Redfield. In a statement, he writes “we now know that adverse childhood experiences” greatly affect “an individual’s future health.”
CDC researchers have been involved in other studies on this subject. However, this new report is the agency’s first on the effects of this problem nationally.
For the new study, researchers looked at 144,000 people from 25 states. They asked these men and women about their health problems and lifestyle choices. The subjects also were asked about childhood memories and if they had experienced or witnessed traumatic events.
What is a traumatic childhood event?
The CDC defines childhood traumas as harmful events that someone experiences from birth to age 17. Such events can include:
- experiencing physical, verbal and/or sexual abuse
- experiencing severe neglect
- witnessing violence in the home
- having an unstable home life because of drug abuse, mental illness or having family members in prison
The CDC statement describes the major findings of the study. It found that adults with the highest levels of childhood trauma had an increased chance of:
- suffering long-term health problems such as heart disease, some forms of cancer, depression and diabetes
- smoking and heavy drinking
- being overweight or obese
- having problems getting a good education and employment opportunities.
Researchers say it is unclear if some traumatic experiences are more harmful to a person’s future than others. Also, health officials admit that the study does not prove that childhood trauma directly leads to future health disorders.
However, many researchers say there is a well-established link between childhood trauma and health problems later in life. And they are working to develop ways to reduce the effects of traumatic childhood events.
Doctor Dayna Long is with the University of California, San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital. She calls trauma “a public health crisis that everybody needs to start addressing.”
When asked about the CDC’s new report on childhood trauma, she calls it “critical.” The report, she says, gives important information about the usefulness of preventive measures.
Leading the CDC’s violence prevention program is Jim Mercy. He says this has become clear: The more harmful incidents a child suffers, the more likely their health suffers later. He adds that “there’s a lot of evidence connecting” childhood trauma and illness in adults.
Ways to lessen the negative effects
CDC researchers are working to better understand and prevent childhood trauma. They also say they are studying ways to lessen its negative effects. CDC officials say all parts of society can help.
Government, church and other community leaders can create effective social and economic programs for at-risk families. Schools can help to lessen the effects of childhood trauma and prevent trauma. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers can recognize at-risk children as well as signs of childhood trauma in adult patients. Employers can support family-friendly policies, such as paid days off for family emergencies.
Prevention is one part of the fix. Another part is intervention.
A positive role model in a child’s life can have a great healing effect. Role models might be family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, religious leaders or others in the community.
Showing care and concern for a traumatized child can possibly put that child on the road to a healthier future.