Guest opinion: Four ACEs is not a winning hand

2014-05-18T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Four ACEs is not a winning handBy TODD GARRISON The Billings Gazette
May 18, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Sure, you can sit at a poker table and get pretty excited if you’re holding four aces. You’d probably bet a lot of money on what you think is a winning hand. If you did win, you’d be telling everyone you know how great it was to have four aces.

Well, it’s not always great to have four aces. Let me give you a new definition of what aces are: adverse childhood experiences. Child abuse, neglect, and exposure to other traumatic stressors are ACEs, and the more you have the worse it can be.

Most of us have had some type of adverse childhood experience. Almost two-thirds of study participants (more than 17,000 people) had at least 1 ACE on a scale of zero to 10. Implications of ACEs for you and me can be serious, but even more so for our children.

The ACE Study (a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and Centers for Disease Control) uncovered a stunning link between childhood trauma and chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional problems. This includes heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and many autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, violence, being a victim of violence and suicide.

The study’s researchers developed this ACE scoring system to explain a person’s risk for chronic disease. It’s kind of like a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems.

In Montana, 60 percent of adults had at least one ACE, and 17 percent had four or more. There seems to be a tipping point at four ACEs. The odds of negative health and social outcomes increases dramatically if you have four ACEs.

See? Four aces is not a winning hand!

Take the ACE survey for yourself. It may open your eyes as to why you feel or act the way you do. It may provide some relief to know you are not alone. You can find a survey here:

Let’s get back to children and money.

The ACE Study is an early warning system for us in regards to our children. Because we now have scientific data linking ACEs to chronic illness, negative social behaviors and even early death, we have an amazing opportunity to reduce and avoid ACEs in our children. Our children can live healthier lives just because parents, teachers, judges, health care workers, social workers, friends and neighbors become aware of ACEs and work to avoid them.

The cost of ACEs is incredibly high when you consider hospital visits, medications, long-term care, criminal behavior, drug and alcohol addictions, prison, etc. On the positive side, children with reduced ACEs are more likely to graduate high school, be healthier, become productive in the workforce, pay taxes and be good neighbors and parents themselves.

The study’s participants were 17,400 mostly white, middle and upper-middle class college-educated people with good jobs and great health care — they all belonged to the Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization.

The news is not all bad. Dr. Robert Anda, co-principal investigator of the ACE Study, says, “Adversity is not destiny.” Because you have ACEs (even a lot of them) it doesn’t mean your life is destined for failure. However, ACEs are serious issues, and we must do all we can to assure our children have the best possible futures because the well-being of our children is the most important thing on Earth. Yes, there are very important issues in our world that need solutions. But if our children are not healthy physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, these solutions won’t come forth, because it is in their hands and hearts where the solutions lie.

Learn more about the ACE Study and tell your family, friends, neighbors and peers. It’s that important.

Todd Garrison of Helena is executive director of the ChildWise Institute.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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