Melissa T. Merrick, PhD Behavioral Scientist, Surveillance Branch, Division of Violence Prevention CDC

CDC Identifies Risk Factors for Adverse Childhood Experiences Interview with:

Melissa T. Merrick, PhD Behavioral Scientist,  Surveillance Branch, Division of Violence Prevention CDC

Dr. Merrick

Melissa T. Merrick, PhD
Behavioral Scientist,
Surveillance Branch, Division of Violence Prevention
CDC What is the background for this study?

Response: Childhood experiences build the foundation for health throughout a person’s life. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic experiences, which occur in childhood. Exposure to ACEs, especially for young people without access to safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments, can impact health in many ways, including increased risk of chronic disease, engagement in risky behaviors, limited life opportunities, and premature death. What are the main findings? 

Response: This study found that Adverse childhood experiences are common, with approximately two thirds of respondents reporting at least one ACE.  People who identified as black, Hispanic, or multiracial, identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, less than a high school education, unemployed or unable to work, and an annual income of less than $15,000 were at a significantly higher risk of ACE exposure.

Additionally, the study found that the most common ACEs were emotional abuse, parental separation or divorce, and household substance abuse. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Although all people are at risk of exposure to ACEs, some people are at increased risk of exposure, because of the historical, structural and social factors that influence the conditions in which they live, learn, work, and play.  Prevention of adverse childhood experiences by assuring access to safe, stable, nurturing relationship and environments for people exposed to ACEs, can help improve lifelong health. Visit CDC’s ACE webpage or watch this video to learn more about increasing protective factors and preventing ACEs in your community. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Although identifying and treating of adverse childhood experiences exposure is important, the primary prevention of ACEs is critical if we are to prevent the associated negative health and life outcomes. Future research should continue to identify why the risk of experiencing ACEs are higher in some individuals than others, and how this increased risk may exacerbate health inequities across the lifespan and future generations.


Merrick MT, Ford DC, Ports KA, Guinn AS. Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences From the 2011-2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 23 States. JAMA Pediatr. Published online September 17, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2537

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD