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Childhood Experiences and Health: Prevalence of ACEs and Wisconsin adults

Experiencing trauma in childhood can harm your health more than you think. Science has shown that adverse childhood experiences or ACEs dramatically increase the risk for at least five of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States. ACEs also are linked to many behavioral health issues. 

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Prevalence of early adversity among Wisconsin adults

If you experienced trauma in your childhood, you're not alone. ACEs are more common than you think. From Beloit to Superior, people of every age and from all walks of life live with, or are affected by, the consequences of early adversity. Take a look at some of the ACEs statistics related to Wisconsin. These statistics represent the CDC's Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System's findings for 2017-2018. 

  • 40% of Wisconsin adults reported experiencing emotional abuse during childhood. 
  • 27% of Wisconsin adults reported experiencing physical abuse during childhood. 
  • Nearly 60% of Wisconsin adults reported experiencing one or more ACEs. 
  • 16% of Wisconsin adults reported four or more ACEs. 

According to the most recent Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Survey data, nearly 60% of adults surveyed reported one or more ACEs. This data has remained consistent among Wisconsin adults since the first wave of data collection in 2010.

How adversity differs by demographic 

Research shows that ACEs impact all populations, regardless of identity. But some people have higher rates of ACEs than others. Why? For one, some demographics have higher risk factors. Certain groups are more likely to experience collective and historical trauma, like stigma and systematic racism. Secondly, social determinants of health can determine a population's risk for ACEs. These can include safe housing, educational and financial opportunities, or access to quality health care. 
In Wisconsin, Black and Indigenous populations are more likely to have ACEs than their white, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino peers. Similarly, people who make less money and have less education are more likely to have experienced ACEs than those with more money and education. 

Some racial or ethnic populations in Wisconsin experience higher ACEs scores than others. These numbers do not account for racial or ethnic sub-populations, like lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer and/or questioning (LGBTQ+) communities of color. Members of such sub-populations may face a higher risk for ACEs or may have higher ACEs scores. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by race/ethnicity, 2017-2020

The graph indicates the estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who identify as female and male, who report experiencing ACEs before age 18. Those who identify as female are more likely to experience four or more ACEs than those who identify as male.   

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by sex, 2017-2020

There is a clear connection between ACEs and economic stability. In Wisconsin, individuals who earn less than $25,000 each year are two times more likely than those with a household income of at least $50,000 to have an ACEs score of four or more. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by household income, 2017-2020

The graph shows the level of current educational attainment of Wisconsin adults who report experiencing ACEs before the age of 18. These estimated percentages reveal that adults who report a higher ACE score are less likely to attain higher education levels than Wisconsin adults who report experiencing zero ACEs. 

Estimated percentage of Wisconsin adults who experienced ACEs by education, 2017-2020

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.


Discuss substance use

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Learn how open and honest conversations can help make an impact on substance use in Wisconsin.

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