Bad childhood experiences ‘mean chronic illnesses more likely’
Children who are exposed to abuse, domestic violence or other stresses are far more likely to develop long term health problems, says new research.
The Public Health Wales study looks at adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which included parents separating. Children with four or more ACEs, around 14%, are three times more likely to get lung or heart disease later in life. One senior health figure said instead of “mending broken adults” a focus was needed on “building stronger children”.
The research findings are the last of three PHW studies looking at the first 1,000 days of life. More than 2,000 adults in Wales were interviewed. The research looks at the long term impact of bad experiences in those crucial early years and how it could mean more chronic illnesses and more pressure on frontline services further down the line.
Those having had four or more ACEs are also:
- Twice as likely to be frequent visitors to the GP over a yearly period
- Three times as likely to have gone to A&E or to have spent a night in hospital
- Four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than a child with no experiences
- A quarter by the age of 49 were diagnosed with one or more chronic disease.
Professor Mark Bellis, director of policy and research at Public Health Wales said: “Most of us have the odd shock in childhood and after that we relax and we’re comforted by parents and our bodies develop at that lower, more relaxed level. But if you get constant exposure to adverse childhood experiences, your body develops at a higher state of tension, it’s always looking out for more threats. That means as your body develops, it’s used to being ready to be injured or hurt in some way and it wears out quicker.”
This suggests that when children who are exposed to these adverse experiences, are removed from the environment, they are less likely to suffer from diseases or health problems later in life.
Alun Michael, South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner said the force was being made more aware of the impact of domestic incidents on children in the background – and it can only improve with all agencies working better together. But a coordinated approach is not always easy to achieve, he argues, at a time when public spending is being squeezed.
“If everyone shrinks into their core responsibilities, the cracks get bigger and more and more people fall down the cracks and the consequences are more complex and dangerous further down the line. There’s been a general feeling within Wales we must shrink together and not shrink apart. It’s more important that we don’t allow those gaps, that we don’t let people fall down the cracks; we work together for a joined up approach.”
The Welsh Government said the evidence on the negative impact of ACEs was “overwhelming” and it was “working relentlessly” to prevent and reduce the long term impact on children who have experienced them.
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