Our later well-being and health are heavily impacted by the social conditions in which we are reared.
According to a new study, these events have a major influence on our health risks as adults. The vast majority of Americans (67%) report having experienced at least one traumatic event as a youngster. Obesity and chronic pain are affected physically, but post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, drug abuse, and depression have the most association with physical disorders. The study was led by researchers from DRI and the University of Nevada, Reno, and was published on October 6 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.
More than 16,000 Reno residents volunteered for the study as part of the Healthy Nevada Project, one of the most publicised genetic studies in the country led by Renown Health. Participants were asked about their social surroundings before the age of 18, including emotional, physical, or sexual maltreatment, neglect, and substance misuse in the home. The researchers used this data in conjunction with anonymised medical records to expand on previous studies into how childhood trauma affects health outcomes.
“The study gives insight into how socioeconomic determinants of health may impact adult health conditions,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Robert Read, M.S., a researcher at DRI’s Center for Genomic Medicine.
Although the study is based on Nevada, which has a high prevalence of individuals with mental illness and limited access to care, the researchers say it gives a glimpse into deeply established public health issues across the country.
“Beating the frequency of childhood traumas is a complicated task,” said Karen Schlauch, Ph.D., a DRI bioinformatics researcher and one of the study’s primary authors. “Personal experiences of neglect and abuse are more difficult to resolve, but many of the underlying factors, like as food insecurity and poverty, may be addressed at the community level.”
Beyond better understanding how early social circumstances impact our health, Schlauch says the next study focus will be on how childhood traumas may be connected to specific qualities like impulsivity, which is prevalent in Nevada’s gaming populations.
“In order to address the devastating effects of early-life adversity on local population health and inequities, we must focus on the dominant social and behavioural mechanisms affecting Nevadans,” said Stephanie Koning, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Public Health and study co-author. “We are collaborating with community-based groups to promote evidence-based solutions at the individual, community, and state levels, in addition to how population needs drive our research.”
The study team is investigating ways to use the Healthy Nevada Project database to support community-based treatments as they broaden their examination of the health effects of early-life trauma. They’ve collaborated with community institutional partners, such as the Stacie Mathewson Behavioral Health & Addiction Institute and Northern Nevada HOPES, to conduct research and advocate for healthy early social contexts and well-being throughout an individual’s life.