Kaiser to Study Childhood Trauma Impact on Total Health


Funding toward the research will help prevent serious health effects caused by adverse childhood experiences.

Childhood Experience

Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest nonprofit, integrated health system, recently announced it will allocate $2.75 million in new research led by Kaiser research scientists to help prevent and mitigate the health effects of adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs.

This research funding is part of Kaiser’s long-term commitment to improving the total health of its members and the communities it serves, according to a press release from Kaiser.

ACEs are defined as traumatic childhood events that occur before the age of 18 across multiple categories, including abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, systemic racism and living in a high-crime neighborhood.

Experiencing multiple ACEs can be associated with a long-lasting, exaggerated stress response that has been linked to risky health behaviors and chronic health conditions.

Previous studies have indicated that those with four or more ACEs are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide, and those with six or more ACEs have a 20-year shorter life expectancy, the release says. 

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“We believe every child deserves a healthy start to their physical and mental health,” Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, said. “Our landmark research on ACEs brought new understanding to the long-term impacts of childhood trauma. We are now expanding our work with the bold ambition to prevent and minimize ACEs-and create healthier and more resilient generations in the future.”

The intention for the new research funding is to provide important insights for both clinical and community-based interventions to help address ACEs, the release says.

In addition, Kaiser is currently conducting a systematic review of existing research on ACEs to help identify gaps in current knowledge as well as successful programs, emerging best practices and interventions in the field that may be ready to be scaled.

The completed review will guide the formation of the research program and target the investments in new research to the areas where they will have the greatest impact.

“Our goal is to provide additional insights on the most promising interventions and emerging innovations, while continuing to build the evidence base for the case that we can break inter-generational cycles of childhood trauma and create a brighter future for children,” Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health and wellness, said. “We hope that this new research funding will also have a catalytic impact in the field, attracting new partners and other organizations to advance research and programs in this area as well.”

Currently, Kaiser expects to issue requests for proposals to Kaiser Permanente research groups for ACEs-related research next year, the release says.

Some initial areas of focus for the research may include:

  • Identifying important protective factors in the prevention of ACEs

  • Mitigating the negative effects of ACEs for a child throughout the course of his or her life

  • Identifying the most effective or promising combinations of community-based services that can successfully address ACEs

Kaiser Permanente was one of the first healthcare organizations to recognize the link between trauma and health through the ACEs study that it conducted along with the CDC, the release says.

The study, released in 1998, was one of the largest investigations of its kind and illuminated the connection between childhood trauma, stress, and maltreatment with health and well-being later in life.

Since then, work toward studying and addressing the impacts of ACEs has continued to increase. This year, Nadine Burke Harris, MD, pediatrician, researcher and California’s first surgeon general, has said one of her top priorities is to raise awareness that ACEs can increase the risk of major health problems. 

“ACEs are a root cause of many of the greatest public health challenges we face today; increasing the risk of serious conditions ranging from heart disease, chronic lung disease, suicide, gun violence, domestic violence and substance dependence,” Burke Harris, MD, said. “The science has given us insights to identify childhood adversity as an important health risk. With additional rigorous research, we have a great opportunity to continue to create breakthrough improvements in the health and well-being of our communities to advance prevention of ACEs and treatment of toxic stress.”


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