ACEs AND THE HIGH COST OF HUNGER


What do depression, lung cancer, violence, diabetes, workplace absenteeism, teen pregnancy, heart disease, obesity, substance abuse, and high-school drop-out rates all have in common? Give up? Ok, I’ll tell you

ACEs.

ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, a term coined by a groundbreaking CDC-Kaiser study in the late 90’s. Their study was the first to trace the close link between childhood trauma and negative health outcomes later in life. Further studies have varied the list of ACEs slightly, but the basic 10 types of childhood trauma implicated are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Exposure to domestic violence
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

This means that things happening to children today are directly affecting their futures in real, physical ways. The stress of wondering if you’ll eat today (and if you eat today, what about tomorrow?) harms the structure of kids’ developing brains and bodies, leaving them vulnerable for a host of mental and physical health problems later in life.

But hey, this is good news, right? Because this means that actions we take today have concrete potential to positively affect kids’ entire futures. We can’t fix every challenge they face, but we can give them something to eat. The simple act of feeding a kid today means less toxic stress, fewer diseases, less chance of violent behavior—or of being a victim of violence in the years to come. Feeding a kid helps break the cycle.

Fighting childhood hunger is an obvious, “feel-good” decision. But it’s more than that. It’s also the decision that makes the most sense.  U.S. health care spending grew 4.3 percent in 2016, reaching $3.3 trillion. That’s $10,348 per person, and it makes up 17.9% of our Gross Domestic Product! The same year, the average yearly cost of incarceration for Federal inmates was $34,704.12 each. Residential treatment programs can cost up to $30,000 per month per person. Understanding ACEs and how they impact long-term outcomes gives us the opportunity to shrink some of these enormous figures through effective early interventions—like reducing childhood hunger.

Dr. Robert Block, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Adverse Childhood Experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.” Just ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. As a community and as a nation, let’s take action. Today.

Tina Kahrs
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Plentywood, MT