Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) and Links to Diabetes Risk Factors

If you’re never heard of adverse childhood events (also called ACEs), you’re not alone. When we talk about risk factors for diabetes and other chronic health conditions, we often highlight diet and exercise. All too often other risk factors like your education level, social-economic status (a fancy way of saying how much money you make), etc. are downplayed or ignored.

ACEs fall in the latter category. Information in mainstream media about the connection between ACEs and diabetes risks are rare. Highlighting ACEs provides yet another opportunity to recognize diabetes doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The risks are complex and treatment plans need to take into account more than just food and activity.

What are adverse childhood events?

ACEs are exactly what they sound like - a traumatic event, or events, which happen during childhood (up to age 17). These can be things like living in a violent home or community or experiencing any type of abuse as a child.  ACEs also include events that compromise your stability and sense of security as a child, like a parent who uses drugs or alcohol or is in and out of prison.

How common are adverse childhood events?

Unfortunately, ACEs are common in the United States. In the 1990s, Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), conducted the largest study on ACEs and their impact on health and quality of life. About 2 out of 3 people reported at least one ACE event in their childhood. And almost 1 out of every 6 people reported four or more ACEs.1

How do adverse childhood events impact health?

In the CDC-Kaiser study, researchers discovered a connection between a higher number of ACEs and chronic health problems. ACEs were also linked to higher health risk behaviors like smoking and drug and alcohol use. The risk of additional violence in adulthood was also increased. ACEs have been found to have such a tremendous impact on health, that the CDC estimates preventing ACEs could reduce up to 1.9 million cases of heart disease.1

What are the links between diabetes and adverse childhood events?

There are a number of ways diabetes and ACEs connect. Health behaviors like smoking and drug and alcohol abuse are linked to those with a history of ACEs and increase the risk of diabetes. Additionally, people who experience ACEs are more likely to live in larger bodies, another diabetes risk factor. Depression and chronic stress increase the chances of developing diabetes, and are, again, linked to ACEs. One study showed an 11% increase in the odds of developing diabetes for every ACE event experienced.2

If you’ve been a victim of an ACE or ACEs, it may have played a role in your development of diabetes. That’s not your fault. Building hope and resiliency in your self-care can help you manage diabetes as well as start the process of taking your power back.

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