Healthify Blog

ACE Trumps What?

From 1995 to 1997, more than 17,000 individuals went to the doctor and had a standard physical exam. One key difference between this exam and the one you get each year? At the time of their check up, participants completed a survey, like the one below, with questions about their childhood history, current health status, and behavior (in other words, the social determinants of their health). In doing so, these 17,000 individuals became a part of a longitudinal study assessing the relationship between adverse child experiences, health care use and causes of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study or, more commonly, the ACE study, and it is still going on to this day.


Photo Credit: CDC

Before you read more, take this quick quiz and see how some of your earliest experiences may have shaped your health today.

Ok, now that you have your ACE score, what does it mean? Well, first of all, if you received an ACE score of 1 or more, you’re not alone. The CDC reports that nearly two-thirds of ACE study participants reported at least 1 ACE. 1 of 5 individuals in the study reported three or more ACE. These ACE include physical and mental abuse, neglect, and specific household dysfunctions. The ACE study shows that the more ACE an individual has, the greater the risk for health problems such as alcoholism, depression, ischemic heart disease, liver disease, suicide attempts and intimate partner violence risk, to name only a few (see diagram below).


Photo Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


Photo Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The good news? According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, this research has spawned “a growing network of leaders in research, policy and practice that are developing approaches to prevent adverse childhood experiences and mitigate their impact through building resilience.” Scientists, researchers, public health officials and nonprofit organizations are united around the creation of interventions that can reduce both the number of ACE a person may encounter, and the impact of an ACE.

For more information about the movement to raise awareness, prevent ACE and improve resiliency, visit the RWJF Library Collection.

Topics: social determinants of health public health