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30-03-2018 | Uitgave 4/2018

Journal of Behavioral Medicine 4/2018

Screening for childhood adversity: the what and when of identifying individuals at risk for lifespan health disparities

Journal of Behavioral Medicine > Uitgave 4/2018
Kate Ryan Kuhlman, Theodore F. Robles, Julienne E. Bower, Judith E. Carroll
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s10865-018-9921-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Existing research on childhood adversity and health risk across the lifespan lacks specificity regarding which types of exposures to assess and when. The purpose of this study was to contribute to an empirically-supported framework to guide practitioners interested in identifying youth who may be at greatest risk for a lifelong trajectory of health disparities. We also sought to identify the point in childhood at which screening for adversity exposure would capture the largest group of at risk individuals for triage to prevention and intervention services. Participants (n = 4036) collected as part of the Midlife in the United States study reported their medical status and history including physical (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, cancer) and mental health (depression, substance use problems, sleep problems). Participants indicated whether they were exposed to 7 adversities at any point in childhood and their age of exposure to 19 additional lifetime adversities before the age of 18. Parent drug abuse, dropping out or failing out of school, being fired from a job, and sexual assault during childhood exhibited the largest effect sizes on health in adulthood, which were comparable to the effects of childhood maltreatment. Childhood adversity screening in early adolescence may identify the largest proportion of youth at risk for negative health trajectories. The results of this descriptive analysis provide an empirical framework to guide screening for childhood adversity in pediatric populations. We discuss the implications of these observations in the context of prevention science and practice.

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