Nearly half of children in Pennsylvania had at least one adverse childhood experience, or ACE, according to a a new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
More than one in five had at least two adverse experiences.
The recent study examines the frequency with which children across the country have traumatic experiences, such as the death of a parent, exposure to violence, or living with someone with a drug or alcohol problem.
Pennsylvania's finding of 47 percent reflects the national trend. About 46 percent of children in the U.S. had at least one adverse experience in 2016, while 21.7 percent had two or more.
“ACEs can have serious, long-term impacts on a child’s health and well-being by contributing to high levels of toxic stress that derail healthy physical, social, and emotional development,” officials with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said in a statement.
The foundation released the new data in collaboration with the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Research shows,” the statement added, “that ACEs increase the long-term risk for smoking, alcoholism, depression, heart and liver diseases, and dozens of other illnesses and unhealthy behaviors.”
The study found that “33 percent of children with two or more ACEs have a chronic health condition involving a special health care need, compared to 13.6 percent of children who have not had ACEs.”
The study also shows that ACEs are more likely among children who live in poverty.
ACEs are gaining increasing attention from policymakers, according to Martha Davis, a senior program officer at the foundation.
“I think what’s happened is that people really understand we’re not solving the problem by locking people up,” she said. “We’re not solving the problem by expelling preschoolers – that those are the very children, really, that need the help the most.”
Davis noted that ACEs add to healthcare costs because children who experience multiple ACEs are at a higher risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“We keep having new research and findings about both the deep impacts, not just on behavior, psychology– the psychological effects of trauma– but really the physiologic changes that can happen when a person is under stress chronically,” she said.
Davis said she has observed increased collaboration among schools, healthcare providers and the juvenile and criminal justice systems to limit ACEs and to mitigate their long-term effects.