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1998 CDC study links bad parenting to toxic stress (chronic physical/mental illness) in kids

Feb 8, 2018, Seattle Times: What’s in the well? Pediatrician probes ACEs and the biology of toxic stress in kids Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician in San Francisco A pediatrician and author makes the link between painful childhood experiences and their physiological effects, which could have important implications for schools. … In her book, Burke Harris boils down two decades of research showing the ways that early trauma — what she calls toxic stress — can trigger hormonal changes that manifest in serious physical symptoms. The root need not be anything as severe as sexual abuse. Day after day, she writes, infants with strange rashes, or kindergartners whose hair was falling out, showed up at her clinic — not to mention patients demonstrating epidemic levels of learning and behavioral problems. The phrase statistical significance kept echoing through her mind. In fact, the linkage between early trauma and later health outcomes had been known since 1998, when two doctors with the federal Centers for Disease Control outlined the profound health effects of adverse childhood experiences — known as ACEs — in 17,000 adult patients, most of them white and college-educated. Burke Harris’ contribution puts a pediatrician’s lens on the research and, by extension, its implication for schools. For instance, in ADHD diagnoses. “What if the cause of these symptoms — the poor impulse control, inability to focus, difficulty sitting still — was not a mental disorder, exactly, but a biological process that worked on the brain to disrupt normal functioning?” she writes. While many of her young patients came from homes rife with violence and neglect, experiences as common as divorce or maternal depression can flood a child’s system with so much stress hormone that it affects their blood pressure, blood sugar, and neurology, Burke Harris notes. During a talk Tuesday at Seattle’s Town Hall, she poked holes in the belief that such impacts show up only in cases of extreme deprivation, and that middle-class households are immune. Two-thirds of U.S. adults have at least one ACE, she noted, and 12.6 percent have four or more, making them twice as likely to develop heart disease or cancer. “This is us,” she said. “This is all of us.” A public health researcher at Washington State University has already correlated the effect that ACEs can have on learning and behavior problems, and a handful of schools around Washington are taking action, teaching kids to understand the ways their brains process experience. Given the dire stakes, Burke Harris’s prescription sounds relatively anodyne: sleep, exercise, nutrition, meditation, mental health counseling and healthy relationships. But it, too, is grounded in research. She suggests screening all children for ACEs before they enter school, as with vaccinations, in hopes of catching risk factors before they become medical or behavioral problems. …

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