Adverse Childhood Experiences and Health in Adulthood in a Rural Population-Based Sample
Background Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including emotional abuse, substance abuse in the household, separation or divorce, physical abuse, violence between adults, mental illness in the household, sexual abuse, or incarceration of a household member, have the potential to profoundly impact health and well-being in adulthood. To assess whether previously reported relationships between ACEs and health outcomes withstand validation, we conducted a community-based ACE study with the unique capacity to link self-reported ACEs and other survey results to validated health data in an electronic medical record (EMR). Methods Information regarding ACEs and health outcomes was captured from 2013–2014 via a telephone survey of residents of the predominantly rural northern and central regions of Wisconsin and electronic abstraction of EMR data. ACE score was calculated by counting each exposure as one point. We examined the relationship between ACE score, type, and self-reported and validated health outcomes. Results A total of 800 participants completed the telephone survey. Overall, 62% reported at least one ACE and 15% reported experiencing four or more. All self-reported measures of poor health were associated with increased ACE score. EMR data were positively correlated with ACE score for increased body mass index and diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and asthma. In contrast, diagnoses of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, myocardial infarction, and skin and other cancers were inversely related to ACE score. Emotional abuse was the most common ACE reported followed by substance abuse in the household. ACEs tended to cluster so that people who reported at least one ACE were likely to have experienced multiple ACEs. There was no clear correlation between abuse type (e.g., direct abuse vs. household dysfunction) and health outcomes. Conclusions In the first community-based study to link self-reported ACEs to comprehensive health measures documented in the medical record, we observed previously reported associations between childhood adversity and poor outcomes in adulthood, but also noted an inverse relationship between ACE score and certain medical diagnoses. Potential explanations for this finding warrant further investigation.
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