Program shines light on adverse childhood experiences

Dr. Resmiye Oral

Dr. Resmiye Oral

Dr. Resmiye Oral, Guest Opinion, Iowa City Press Citizen

Adverse childhood experiences — ACEs — include many factors such as child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, parental mental health and substance abuse problems, school bullying and violence, loss of a loved one, frequent relocations, serious injury or illness, and many others. Childhood trauma has a significant impact on behavioral, social, mental, and physical health.

These experiences lead to traumatic toxic stress that may change the young brain with subsequent behavioral, social, medical, and mental adaptations. However, the coping skills that help children survive difficult times, may not be to their benefit in the long run: These health-risk behaviors include substance abuse, tobacco use, high-risk sexual behaviors and overeating. Having experienced four or more ACEs without helpful interventions increases the rate of smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, severe obesity, and unsafe sexual practices anywhere from twofold to 11 times.

These health-risk behaviors increase the risk for fatal outcomes, such as heart disease and stroke, liver disease, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease anywhere from twofold to four times. Mental health problems associated with four or more ACEs are more pronounced: children develop anxiety and depression with subsequent learning and behavioral problems in adolescence and, as they grow to adulthood, those with four or more ACEs experience four to 15 times more anxiety, depression, suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder than those without ACEs.

Unfortunately ACEs are very common. A statewide survey of adults in 2012 and 2016 revealed identical results: 55 percent of Iowa’s adult population report at least one ACE, and 15 percent report four or more ACEs. Similar results have been reproduced across the U.S. for the last two decades. But there is hope. Every year, more and more institutions from all systems of care are reporting implementation of trauma-informed care and practices to provide trauma-sensitive responses to their clients.

This month, WorldCanvass from UI International Programs will focus on adverse childhood experiences and the negative health consequences children and adults with these experiences may face. Experts from the University of Iowa, Johnson County and the state of Iowa will discuss the epidemiology of ACEs and how childhood adversity affects the brain, behaviors, social adjustment, and physical and mental health. They will share with the audience the important advances being made in the recognition and treatment of health issues related to adverse childhood experiences, many of them led by physicians and researchers at UI. I invite you to join us for the free program from 7:30-9 p.m. on Monday, when the topic is “Resilience Over Trauma.” WorldCanvass will be held in the Recital Hall of the Voxman Music Building. No tickets are required.

If you miss the live program, the recorded discussions are available on YouTube, iTunes and the Public Radio Exchange. For more information on the upcoming program, please visit international.uiowa.edu/news/resilience-over-trauma-topic-february-20-worldcanvass.

Dr. Resmiye Oral is a clinical professor at the UI Stead Family Department of Pediatrics

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