Health & Fitness

Report reveals majority of Californians experienced early childhood trauma

About 62 percent of Californians have experienced at least one “adverse childhood experience,” such as abuse, neglect or household dysfunction, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The report, put out by the San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness, found that early traumatic experiences affect people across the state, regardless of income, race or education.

In by-county data, Merced County was grouped with San Benito and Madera counties.

Of 328 people surveyed in the three-county area, 24.6 percent reported having gone through at least one adverse childhood experience, and 24.9 percent said they had gone through at least two or three. A little more than 12 percent said they experienced four or more.

Meanwhile, 38.2 percent reported experiencing no traumatic childhood experience.

As defined by researchers, adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are traumatic incidents that have a profound impact on a child’s developing brain and body.

The most common types of ACEs among California adults, as detailed in the report, include emotional abuse, parental separation, substance abuse by a household member and witness to domestic violence, among others.

According to the report, there is a strong correlation between childhood exposure to adversity and poor health. It explains that people reporting four or more ACEs are more likely to face greater physical and mental health challenges as well as social and economic challenges.

Those with several ACEs, the report said, are 5.1 times more likely to suffer from depression, and 4.2 times as likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The report’s key findings also indicated that this group is 12 times more likely to be the victims of sexual violence after the age of 18 and 50 percent more likely to lack health insurance.

The data, also categorized by race, showed that 16.4 percent of white Californians have experienced four or more ACEs. This is in comparison with 16.5 percent of blacks, 17.3 percent of Latinos and about 11 percent of Asians and Pacific Islanders.

During a conference call Wednesday, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco, said the report’s overall message is that adverse experiences can lead to toxic stress, which can lead to serious health problems.

“This is everybody’s problem, many people see it as an issue for low-income communities of color, but we’re all the face of ACEs,” Harris said noting that ACEs were consistent among races and counties.

Dr. Marta Induni, a research program director of the Survey Research Group at the Public Health Institute, said that during the process of collecting information, people reacted positively to being asked questions about their adverse childhood.

“They intuitively knew that their ACEs had impacted their lives,” Induni said. She added that people were more likely to refuse to answer questions about their incomes than about their adverse experiences.

In efforts to raise awareness about the impacts of early trauma, the Center for Youth Wellness hosted a statewide summit Wednesday at which educational, medical and health professionals gathered to discuss ideas and solutions on ways to reduce ACEs.

Harris said the goal is to work across the system to develop a response to this public health issue.

Ideally, she’d like to see primary care physicians screening children for ACEs.

“I would love to see medical schools training our next generation of clinicians around this type of information,” she added.

The report is an analysis of data gathered in surveys of 27,545 adults conducted by the California Department of Public Health in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013.

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209)385-2486 or