State links trauma as child to poor health

More than half of Minnesota adults included in a 2011 survey had an adverse childhood experience that could be linked to poor health outcomes later in life, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday.

Adverse childhood experiences include abuse, having a mentally ill parent, domestic violence against a parent, a household member in prison, divorced parents or a household member with a drug or alcohol problem.

Fifty-five percent of the 13,520 Minnesotans surveyed reported having at least one adverse childhood experience. Of that group, 28 percent reported verbal abuse, 24 percent reported a drinking problem in the household, 17 percent reported mental illness in the household and 16 percent reported physical abuse. And among people reporting adverse childhood experiences, more than half had experienced more than two.

It's the first time the questions about childhood were included for Minnesota respondents as part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Seventeen other states ask the questions.

The survey also asked people about their health and found a link between adverse childhood experiences and health outcomes in adulthood. Minnesotans with more such experiences were more likely to have asthma, be obese, rate their health as fair or poor, have a depression or anxiety diagnosis or report chronic smoking and drinking.

Health officials said the data is significant because it shows the need for working to prevent adverse childhood experiences, and take steps to lessen their impact.

"Our task now is to learn from this information and use these insights to better identify and support children and families at risk," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a news release.

Assistant Health Commissioner Jeanne Ayers said studies have shown that adverse childhood experience can alter the brain's architecture.

"If we want to decrease risk behaviors around smoking, for example, we need to also embrace a broader understanding of what the source of those risk behaviors are," she said.

Ayers said making the data public will help raise awareness about the link between childhood experiences and health.

"When you first look at this data, it just makes us really sad. And then you recognize that if we understand that there are things that we can do differently and start to problem solve around that, we can actually improve health on a much broader scale," she said.

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