Nearly half of all New Hampshire adults say they experienced stressful or traumatic events in childhood, and data released Monday show those experiences are hurting their health today.
While only 10% of adults with no adverse experiences during childhood reported being in fair or poor health, that percentage was 17% for those with at least one such experience, according to statistics presented at a news conference by the New Hampshire Department of Public of Health and Spark NH, the governor's early childhood advisory council. The statistics examined the relationship between health indicators in New Hampshire adults and their exposure to what are called Adverse Childhood Experiences, which includes things like abuse and neglect, witnessing domestic violence and growing up with relatives who have substance use disorders.
Among all New Hampshire adults, 49.5% reported at least one such experience, according to a 2016 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women were more likely to report such experiences: 53% of women and 46% of men said they had at least one adverse experience during childhood, and women made up 62% of those with four or more.
Reports of poor health increased with the number of adverse experiences, as did tobacco use and poor mental health.
"Addressing and preventing adverse childhood experiences is a public health priority," said Patricia Tilley, deputy director of the state Division of Public Health Services. She noted that the CDC estimates the annual cost associated with adverse experiences during childhood is more than $124 billion nationwide.
"In addition to being a moral imperative to address, ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are costly to us all," she said. "Billions of dollars in productivity loss, billions of dollars in health care expenditures, billions of dollars in special education, child welfare and criminal justice."
The news conference was attended by Democratic U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, who said they were hopeful the statistics would spur policy changes.
"We're not spending money where it can make the difference the quickest," Shaheen said.
Hassan described asking her mother, a teacher, why some students struggled despite their high academic capacity.
"My mom said, 'All kids need to know they have a grown-up in their corner,'" she said. "I've always thought our job in public life is to be the grown-up for all of our children."
Officials said the data, which were consistent with national statistics, highlighted the need to help not just children but also parents and other caregivers because adults who were raised by parents with mental health or substance use problems had worse outcomes later.
Laura Milliken, director of Spark NH, said the private-public partnership will use the new information to continue its advocacy for quality early childhood education programs, home visit programs and family resource centers.
"If we care about New Hampshire's stability and prosperity, then we need to create the conditions in our communities that can reduce risk for everyone now and into the future," she said. "One of the key ways to reduce risk is to ensure young children have stable, responsive relationships and enriching experiences at home and in the community."