Funding new research to prevent childhood trauma

Kaiser Permanente has committed $ 2.75 million to new research to help prevent and mitigate the health effects of adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs. This effort, led by Kaiser Permanente research scientists, is part of our long-term commitment to improving the total health of our members and the communities we serve.

ACEs are 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 4 or more ACEs are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide and those with 6 or more ACEs have a 20-year shorter life expectancy.

“We believe every child deserves a healthy start to their physical and mental health,” said Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente. “Our landmark research on ACEs brought new understanding to the long-term impacts of childhood trauma, and 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.”

Kaiser Permanente was one of the first health care organizations to recognize the link between trauma and health through the landmark ACEs study it conducted along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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 and California’s first surgeon general, said one of her top priorities is to raise awareness that ACEs can increase the risk of major health problems.

A primary goal for the new research funding is to provide important insights for both clinical and community-based interventions to help address ACEs. As part of this work, Kaiser Permanente is reviewing 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 used broadly. The completed review will guide the formation of the research program to 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,” said Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health and wellness. “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.”

Kaiser Permanente will seek proposals for ACEs-related studies led by its regional research groups, who may collaborate with other researchers. Some initial areas of focus are likely to include identifying factors that can help prevent ACEs, determining the most effective combinations of community-based services that can successfully address ACEs, and mitigating the negative effects of ACEs for children throughout the course of their lives.

“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, and suicide, to gun violence, domestic violence, and substance dependence,” said Dr. Burke Harris. “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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