How Childhood Trauma, Stress Lead to a Lifetime of Heath Issues


Can childhood trauma lead to long-term heart disease? A growing body of evidence says yes, but it’s not just heart health that’s impacted. Toxic stress in childhood can lead to a multitude of long-term health consequences.

In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente first reported on the impact of adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, trauma and dysfunction at home.

“It’s not minor transitional stress. That’s more like adversity,” says Dr. Angela Odoms-Young, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“We’re talking about abuse, abandonment, an incarcerated parent, a parent with mental illness, growing up in severe poverty. Community violence can be considered toxic stress,” she added. “The biology of stress on healthy brain growth and development interrupts and damages health across the life course.”

Study after study has found that severe and prolonged childhood adversity can lead to heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, diabetes and unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and substance abuse, and can shorten a person’s life by as much as 20 years.

Odoms-Young joins Phil Ponce in discussion, as well as a conference taking place Friday: Understanding Childhood Trauma, Stress, and Heart Disease: Building Trauma Informed Programs for Community Health and Healing.


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