Majority of U.S. Adults Had Troubled Childhoods: CDC
Study finds nearly 60 percent lived with abuse or other difficult family situations
Posted: December 16, 2010
By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Almost 60 percent of American adults say they had difficult childhoods featuring abusive or troubled family members or parents who were absent due to separation or divorce, federal health officials report.
In fact, nearly 9 percent said that while growing up they underwent five or more "adverse childhood experiences" ranging from verbal, physical or sexual abuse to family dysfunction such as domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or the absence of a parent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Adverse childhood experiences are common,"1 said study coauthor Valerie J. Edwards, team lead for the Adverse Childhood Experiences Team at CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. "We need to do a lot more to protect children and help families," she said.
About a quarter of the more than 26,000 adults surveyed reported experiencing verbal abuse as children, nearly 15 percent had been physical abused, and more than 12 percent -- more than one in ten -- had been sexually abused as a child.
Since the data are self-reported, Edwards believes that the real extent of child abuse may be still greater. "There is a tendency to under-report rather than over-report," she said.
The findings are published in the Dec. 17 issue of the CDC's journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
For the report, researchers used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveyed 26,229 adults in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee and Washington. Edwards is cautious about extrapolating these results, but based on other data they probably are about the same in other states, she said.
....Adverse childhood experiences included in the report included verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, incarceration of a family member, family mental illness, family substance abuse, domestic violence and divorce.2
According to the report, about 7.2 percent had had a family member in prison during their childhood and 16.3 percent had witnessed domestic violence in the family home. In addition, about 29 percent grew up in a home where someone abused alcohol or drugs. "These cases occur across all racial groups and ethnicities," Edwards noted.
Almost one in five respondents (19.4 percent) had lived as a child with someone who was depressed, mentally ill or suicidal, the report noted.
Although the volume of abuse and dysfunction is significant, such traumatic experiences cannot be used to describe a person or determine what that person will be,3 the researchers cautioned. Instead, they said, keeping track of these abusive experiences is important to gain a better understanding of them and their effect on society.
1- Otherwise known as "growing up".
2- That's 50% of the population indicated in one fell swoop.
3- This flies in the face of a lot of mental illness clinician's world view.