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If you want to measure the effect of your early life on your health now, take this ACES test

Oct 27, 2014

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is a national leader in the work to treat early stress and trauma
Credit Nadine Burke Harris

State of Opportunity will air a documentary on foster care on Thursday, October 30th. In the lead up to Thursday we're publishing a series of articles that explore specific aspects of the foster care system or challenges kids within that system face.

America is in the middle of a collective, and scientifically supported, epiphany about just how much early childhood experiences matter to outcomes later in life.

The measure of this understanding can be seen in the support of state sponsored expanded preschool options, the growth of trauma informed care, and even some changes in the child welfare system, which perhaps is late to the party but still showing up.

Even physical health, the likelihood somebody will grow up to have high blood pressure or cancer, is influenced by early childhood experiences. What's more, there's a test to measure how these experiences might impact later health.  It's called the ACES test, an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

The ACE study is a very long running and very large study on long term health effects. Over 17,000 people have participated so far, and the data from the study has international reach. 

So, if you're curious about what your ACE score is, you can easily take the test. It's a simple one page questionnaire you can find here, or at the lower-tech site of the original study. A score of 4 or above is considered high. There's not a whole lot of resources out there for what the next step is for a person with a high ACE score, but there are physicians who specialize in helping treat trauma and manage stress.

The meaning of the ACE score does not doom a person to a life of poor health, but it's not escapable either.

One thing that is so interesting to researchers about the ACE score is that these early childhood experiences have an impact on later health regardless of an individuals later behavior. To explain, it's not that a high ACE score makes somebody more likely to smoke cigarettes or abuse alcohol and that leads to poor health (although that may be true). A high ACE score impacts health even among people with very healthy behavior. 

The complexity of exactly how a high ACE score will play out in an individuals life and health makes one thing clear, the best way to combat these poor health effects is to reduce the amount of childhood trauma that lead to them.