CA Surgeon General leads national campaign for ACEs awareness
Adverse childhood experiences can have effects into adulthood if not addressed
child sits with his face in his hands as a couple has a discussion in the background
California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is leading a six-month national public information campaign about the negative physical and mental health impacts that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have. The campaign includes public service announcements, social media partnerships and a website offering information and resources.

The campaign will center around NumberStory.org, a website that explains what ACEs are and shares actionable resources for adults and families impacted by them. Today’s understanding of ACEs largely originates from a landmark study of of how childhood experiences are related to later-life health and well-being. ACEs are preventable, potentially traumatic events that occur before the age of 18 such as neglect, experiencing or witnessing violence, or having a family member attempt or die by suicide. Also included are aspect’s of the home environment that can undermine a child’s sense of safety and stability, such as growing up with parents/guardians with issues around substance abuse, mental health and instability due to separation.

The effects of ACEs can lead to increased probability of heart disease, diabetes, asthma and stroke, as well as a greater chance of experiencing depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. A recent study estimated the total annual cost of ACEs in California alone to be $112.5 billion.

“Science demonstrates that children’s developing brains and bodies are particularly vulnerable to ACEs and toxic stress,” said Burke Harris. “Unless we act intentionally, the echoes of these often traumatic experiences — which have been compounded by the pandemic — will be felt in the health of our children for decades. Now more than ever, we have an unprecedented opportunity to raise awareness of this significant health crisis in an effort to prevent the long-term harms that it has on our society.”

The number of ACEs that occur before age 18 can be measured through an ACE score, which is alluded to in the campaign by knowing your “number story.” The life expectancy of individuals with six or more ACEs is 19 years shorter than that of individuals with none. California has created a website to empower physicians to take action by screening for ACEs through the ACEs Aware initiative.

The Number Story’s website, available in English and Spanish, includes an animated sequence that introduces and explains the impact of ACEs. Through the site, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of what an ACE score means to them, proactive steps they can take and resources they can access to help address any related issues.

“We can’t talk about mental health in this country without recognizing ACEs and toxic stress and the impact it has on our physical and mental well-being,” said Burke Harris.