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Childhood Experiences and Health: Health Conditions and Adversity

Research has proven that trauma can seriously impact our brain, body, and behaviors. That means every aspect of our health can be affected. Adverse childhood experiences or ACEs can significantly influence our lifelong health, from chronic disease to depression and substance use.  

Health conditions associated with ACEs 

There are many negative health outcomes associated with ACEs. While this is not an extensive list, below are some more common conditions related to early adversity. 

  • Diabetes 
  • Cancer 
  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Substance use disorder 
  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD 

How ACEs impact life-long health 

Many aspects of our physical and mental health can be negatively affected by ACEs. Below are just a few.  

Early adversity is linked to poor health later in life. When we examine the ACEs scores of Wisconsin residents living with mental or physical health conditions, we see that, in nearly every case, rates of negative health outcomes rise as ACEs scores increase. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced frequent mental distress 2017-2020

The graph shows an estimated connection between Wisconsin adults who have received a diagnosis of depression and their self-reported ACE score. Wisconsin adults that report experiencing more ACEs before age 18 are more likely to have received a diagnosis of depression. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who have ever been diagnosed with depression, 2017-2020

The ACEs questionnaire encompasses various aspects of household trauma such as parental imprisonment, witnessing parental intimate partner violence, a parent with mental illness in the home, or substance use by a parent in the home. The following data are estimated percentages of Wisconsin adults who report experiencing these five ACEs before age 18. Substance use is the highest reported ACE within the category of household dysfunction on the ACEs questionnaire. Imprisonment of a parent is the least reported, but those who report having a parent incarcerated are more likely to experience four or more ACEs compared to their counterparts. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults that report experiencing the following ACEs prior to the age of 18, 2017-2022

Take action

There are many steps that people can take to prevent and buffer the effects of early adversity.

Talk to someone

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Learn about helplines, hotlines, and text services that provide support for all types of issues.

Build resilience

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Learn how to cope with and bounce back from all forms of adversity.


Strive to be physically healthy

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Learn how to reduce the likelihood of getting a chronic disease and improve quality of life.

Support systems change

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Learn how to be part of efforts to improve health in every Wisconsin community.

Last revised January 1, 2023