We Can Prevent Childhood Adversity

We Can Prevent Childhood Adversity

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We Can Prevent Childhood Adversity

The Science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Shows We Can Improve People’s Lives and Help Them Thrive

What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, mean potentially traumatic events in childhood (0-17 years) such as neglect and experiencing or witnessing violence.

ACEs can negatively impact physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral development.

ACEs can also have lasting effects on health, well-being, and prosperity well into adulthood.

Types of ACEs


  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Sexual


  • Emotional
  • Physical


  • Substance misuse
  • Mental illness
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior
  • Divorce or separation
  • Incarceration
  • Intimate partner violence or domestic violence


  • Bullying
  • Community violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Refugee or wartime experiences
  • Witnessing or experiencing acts of terrorism

*The child lives with a parent, caregiver, or other adult who experiences one or more of these challenges.

Many People Report ACEs

According to data collected from more than 144,000 adults across 25 states between 2015 and 2017:

61% reported experiencing AT LEAST ONE type of ACE.

16% reported experiencing FOUR OR MORE types of ACEs.

Some Groups Are More Likely to Have Experienced ACEs

Multiple studies show that people who identified as members of these groups as adults reported experiencing significantly more ACEs:

  • Black, Hispanic/Latino, or multiracial people
  • People who are unemployed or unable to work
  • People making less than $15,000 per year
  • People with less than a high school education
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people

ACEs Can Accumulate and Their Effects Last Beyond Childhood

The effects of ACEs can add up over time and affect a person throughout their life.

  • Children who repeatedly and chronically experience adversity can suffer from toxic stress.
  • Toxic stress happens when the brain endures repeated stress or danger, then releases fight or flight hormones like cortisol.
  • This internal alarm system increases heart rate and blood pressure and damages the digestive and immune systems.
  • Toxic stress can disrupt organ, tissue, and brain development. Over time, this can limit a person’s ability to process information, make decisions, interact with others, and regulate emotions. These consequences may follow a person into adulthood.

ACEs Can Echo Across Generations

The consequences of ACEs can be passed down from one generation to the next if children don’t have protective buffers like…

positive childhood experiences or a caring adult in their lives.

Also, when families experience historical and systemic racism or living in poverty for generations, the effects of ACEs can add up over time.

ACEs Can Increase Risk for Disease, Early Death, and Poor Social Outcomes

Research shows that experiencing a higher number of ACEs is associated with many of the leading causes of death like heart disease and cancer.

    Coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity
    Smoking, heavy drinking or alcoholism, substance misuse, physical inactivity, risky sexual behavior, suicidal thoughts, and behavior
    Lack of health insurance, unemployment, less than a high school diploma or equivalent education

We Can Create Positive Childhood Experiences

Strengthen families’ financial stability
Paid time off, child tax credits, and flexible and consistent work schedules

Promote social norms that protect against violence
Positive parenting practices and prevention efforts involving men and boys

Help kids have a good start
Early learning programs and affordable preschool and childcare programs

Teach healthy relationship skills
Conflict resolution, negative feeling management, pressure from peers, and healthy non-violent dating relationships

Connect youth with activities and caring adults
School or community mentoring programs and after-school activities

Intervene to lessen immediate and long-term harms
ACEs education, therapy, and family-centered treatment for substance abuse

What Could Happen If We Prevent ACEs?

15% reduction in the number of adults who are unemployed

16% reduction in the number of adults with kidney disease

24-27% reduction in the number of adults with respiratory problems such as asthma and COPD

33% reduction in the number of adults who smoke

44% reduction in the number of adults with depression

Positive Childhood Experiences Improve the Economy

The primary prevention of ACEs — stopping ACEs before they start — would benefit the economy and relieve pressures on healthcare systems.

ACEs-related illness accounts for an estimated $748 billion in financial costs in North America each year. A 10% reduction in ACEs could equate to an annual savings of $56 billion.

10% reduction= $56 billion in annual savings

$748 billion (3.6% of Gross Domestic Product)

Healthy childhoods start now.

Working together, we can help create neighborhoods, communities, and a world in which every child can thrive.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Learn how you can help! vetoviolence.cdc.gov/apps/aces-training

Page last reviewed: March 2, 2022