July 13, 2017

A doctor. Credit: Hamza Butt / Flickr Creative Commons

Vincent Felitti first made the connection between childhood abuse and adult health during an obesity research study he ran in the 1980s. During a routine checkup with one of his patients, she mentioned that the year after she was raped, she gained 105 pounds. Felitti recalled what happened next: “She looked down at the carpet and muttered to herself, ‘Overweight is overlooked. And, that’s the way I needed to be.’”

Felitti started asking all of his patients about sexual abuse. The results were shocking. “It seemed every other patient in the program was acknowledging a history of childhood sexual abuse,” he said. In the end, 55 percent of his patients disclosed that they had been abused.

That study kicked off Felitti’s life work. Felitti partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to survey over 17,000 patients. He found that patients who experienced childhood trauma were more likely to be sick when they grew up. But, it took over twenty years for Vincent Felitti’s research to gain mainstream acceptance.

Three Takeaways:
  • Adverse Childhood Experience -- or ACE -- scores are a series of questions that ask about the ten most common categories of childhood abuse. 
  • High ACE scores can lead to a number of illnesses: “Heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, diabetes, fractures, cancer, and a number of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma,” explains Felitti. The effects are so high that a person who had experienced six or more types adverse childhood experiences will, on average, reduce their life expectancy by 20 years.
  • At first, Felitti was so surprised by his results that he almost didn’t believe them: “Somebody would have told me [if this sort of linkage existed]. That’s what medical school was for.” And even though he tested thousands of patients, it took years for doctors to start accepting his data.

More Reading:

Body and Mind, ACE Scores, Vincent Felitti, health

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