ACEs Connection

Healthy, happy kids grow up to create a healthy, happy world.

Part One of Six: Dr. Rob Anda at the National Summit on ACEs in Philadelphia

Last week we posted you an overview about the National Summit on ACEs, which ISF co-hosted with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on May 13th and May 14th, 2013 in Philadelphia. 


Here is part one of a six-part series.  We hope you enjoy "Back to the Source: The Original ACE Study and the Human Spirit," which focuses on the keynote talk offered by Dr. Robert Anda. You also can read more about the Summit at our website under "News from the Summit" and "What's Happening."


You also may be interested in the webpage at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's site about the ACE study and an infographic that helps visually express this groundbreaking study: Adverse Childhood Experiences - Robert Wood Johnson Foundation




Martha Davis

Executive Director, Institute for Safe Families


Back to the Source: 



Image Strip Robert Anda's name tag at the National Summit on Adverse Childhood Experiences bore a ribbon that read "troublemaker."


It was a fitting-and self-selected-annotation for the co-principal investigator of the original ACE study, the research on childhood adversity and poor health outcomes that launched a new way of thinking about human suffering and strength.             

When that research was first published, in 1998, Anda believed that toxic stress was primarily a medical problem; data on more than 17,000 people in the San Diego Kaiser Permanente health system showed that childhood adversity-for example, having a parent who was mentally ill or in jail; experiencing physical or sexual abuse-was correlated with a higher risk of heart and lung disease, cancer, suicide and sexually transmitted diseases.


Today, Anda sees childhood adversity as the faultline zigzagging beneath countless forms of social and behavioral turmoil: sexual dissatisfaction and divorce, unemployment, financial distress and homelessness. "ACEs destabilize relationships, families, households and communities," Anda said.


Fifteen years after publication of the ACEs study, he said, new research in neuroscience, immunology and epigenetics (how environment and experience influence gene expression) is illuminating exactly how toxic stress in childhood affects health, behavior, adult relationships and parenting.


Today, this "troublemaker" wants to stop ACEs before they can damage the next generation. "The ACE study incorporated facets of multiple sciences: sociology, psychology, criminology, psychiatry, medicine, public health, and more...  What I'm proposing is a unified sciences and services theory, a simple framework to reduce the intergenerational transmission of ACEs."


To Anda, the stakes are nothing less than the integrity of the human spirit.


"[Before the ACEs study], I knew there was suffering," he told 165 physicians, nurses, social workers, policy makers and child advocates at the National Summit on ACEs in May. "But I had no idea how much suffering there was in the children in our country and around the world...Human beings are built to love. When children are exposed to toxic stress, they can develop a distorted sense of love. When I think about childhood adversity, I think about how human nature gets violated."


Human nature, Anda affirmed, is also the key to healing. He urged Summit participants to move beyond traditional categories of service and intervention, to join forces and funding in community-based efforts. Twenty-one states currently collect data on ACEs; Anda would like to see every state do so by 2018.


He'd like to see a national education campaign about childhood adversity, so that knowing one's ACE score would be commonplace and meaningful to people, no matter where they live. Such a campaign would spread the basic concepts about ACEs: They are common. They are interrelated. They have a cumulative impact.


"People can understand that stress piles up in their lives. It makes sense to them that certain things can happen [as a result]: health problems, social problems, relationship problems. "I have this idea of building self-healing communities...getting everyone to know this information so they can use it in their own lives, in their parenting, their neighborhoods, their schools. The power is going to come from the people affected by ACEs."

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