A simple 10-question quiz on the level of neglect you suffered as a child could help predict if you will develop chronic illnesses later in life.
Known as the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) test, some health professionals use it to determine if a troubled child is suffering abuse at home.
But in 1995, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) conducted a study of 17,000 people to determine if there were links between poor health and high ACE scores.
It concluded: “We found a strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults.”
The questions explore the level of exposure to psychological, physical or sexual abuse, any violence against the mother, living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or even imprisoned.
More than half of the respondents reported at least one traumatic childhood incidence, and a quarter reported two or more childhood traumas.
Those who experienced four or more categories of childhood exposure, compared to those who experienced none, had four to 12 times the risk of developing alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and even attempting suicide.
They also had two to four times the risk of taking up smoking and having sex with more than 50 partners, plus 50 per cent more likely to become severely obese.
The study showed a relationship between high ACE scores and heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures and liver disease.
“The seven categories of adverse childhood experiences were strongly interrelated and persons with multiple categories of childhood exposure were likely to have multiple health risk factors later in life,” the study found.
However, other experts warn that no one should read too much into a high ACE score because the quiz does not measure the pleasurable occasions from early childhood, which could provide a counterbalance to trauma.
It is well known that having loving and trusting relationships outside the immediate family, such as with a grandparent or best friend, can produce wonderful memories and help ameliorate negative feelings.
“There are people with high ACE scores who do remarkably well,’’ says Dr Jack Shonkoff, a paediatrician and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
To try the quiz and find out your ACE score, visit the CDCP site.
Do you believe that a sad childhood could make you ill in later years? Are parents too soft on their children nowadays? Should spanking be banned?
Australian readers seeking support and information about suicide and depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information on treating depression, please visit Beyond Blue.