Article on Adverse Childhood Experiences Shows Income Level as Very Strong Indicator of Health

The compelling issue of how race and income are related to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) was examined in a recent article published in Health & Social Work, a journal of the National Association of Social Workers, co-authored by Jennifer Jones of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Kristen Slack, professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Sarah Font, professor at Pennsylvania State University.

The article, "The Complex Interplay of Adverse Childhood Experiences, Race, and Income," uncovers a gap in the current research on the correlation of ACEs, race, and income on adult health outcomes and provides an interesting perspective on this very important issue.

These experts examined data from the Wisconsin Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) surveys and found that despite the extensive literature on health disparities by race, black Wisconsinites who responded to the BRFSS surveys are no more likely than white adults to report high levels of health risk behaviors and severe or chronic health conditions once other demographic characteristics are controlled.

Rather, income level is a strong predictor. Respondents with incomes under $25,000 were significantly more likely to report high levels of health risk behaviors and general health problems, as well as the presence of a chronic health condition. Specifically, those with incomes under $25,000 were 45 percent more likely to engage in health risk behaviors; 227 percent more likely to report poor general health; and 112 percent more likely to report a severe or chronic condition than those with higher incomes.

Jones, the Alliance’s director of child and family systems innovation, and the other co-authors include several recommendations in the article, including continuing to support research that explores the role of childhood experiences and how they do or do not influence health disparities by race and income. They also encourage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to financially support the inclusion of the optional ACEs module in all state BRFSS so we can better understand the health disparities in various contexts and the influence of childhood experiences in those disparities.

As the Alliance's Change in Mind initiative asserts, the Alliance and this network must place a high priority on two generational approaches to address poverty and advance equity. In fact, the Alliance's new theory of change has identified advancing equity as a key focal point of our efforts in the years to come.

In an effort to assist in nonprofits’ advocacy efforts, the Policy Community of Practice of the Change in Mind initiative completed a brain-science infused policy document to use in policy advocacy and formation. Access Using a Brain Science-Infused Lens in Policy Development: Achieving healthier outcomes for children and families.

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