The ACE Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess connections between chronic stress caused by early adversity and later-life health. The study began with a partnership between Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It looked at multiple categories of childhood physical and emotional abuse and neglect, as well as measures of household dysfunction like domestic violence, parental mental illness, substance abuse and separation/divorce.

The results of the ACE Study had two striking findings. First, ACEs are incredibly common—67 percent (2 out of 3 people) of the study population had at least one ACE and 13 percent (1 out of 8 people) of the population had four or more ACEs. Secondly, there was a dose-response relationship between ACEs and numerous health problems. This means that the more ACEs a child has, the higher the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression and cancer.

Research over the last two decades confirms that children carry the effects of childhood experiences into adulthood. The challenges they face in school, life and ultimately, the state of their health are often the symptoms of toxic stress. Toxic stress, unlike manageable stress, refers to the long-term changes in brain architecture and organ systems that develop after extreme, prolonged and repeated stress goes untreated. Exposure to ACEs may put our children at higher risk for learning difficulties, emotional problems, developmental issues and long-term health problems.

Effective screening and interventions can save children and their communities a lifetime of costly health issues, and the Center for Youth Wellness aims to serve as a national model for addressing exposure to ACEs. Our goal is to transform the way medicine responds to the challenges facing our children—especially in disadvantaged communities.

Looking to calculate your ACE score? Check out the tool on AcesTooHigh