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Growing evidence supports the key role of positive childhood experiences (PCEs) in adult health, including lessening the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The current issue of the Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, features an article called Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Health Outcomes[1]. The authors analyze data from the 2017 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, including almost 7,500 adult health outcomes. They track ACEs and PCEs, then look to see if they are related to key adult health outcomes.

PCEs protect mental and physical health

The results were interesting. They found that PCEs “play a role in enhancing health resilience, [and] promoting healthy outcomes.” Having 5 or 6 PCEs protected against physical or mental health problem as an adult. Looking at adult well-being, PCEs related to lower rates of poverty (5.0%, 7.7% and 10.5% for those with 5-6 PCEs, 3-4 PCEs, and 0-2 PCEs respectively) and to lower rates of less than high school education (7.6%, 9.9%, and 12.6% for those with 5-6 PCEs, 3-4 PCEs, and 0-2 PCEs respectively.) In the discussion, the researchers noted “This is the first nationally representative study to demonstrate the relationship between PCEs and adult mental and physical health while accounting for ACEs.” Interestingly, the ability for PCEs protect adult mental health whether or not the adult also had ACEs.

Diving in deeper

The University of Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics [i]began in 1968 with a sample of over 18,000 individuals living in 5,000 United States families[2]. Researchers have collected information from the families and their children ever since. In this particular study, the authors measured PCEs composite based answers to survey items based on the University of California at San Francisco’s Benevolent Childhood Experiences[3] score.

Although the overall study followed participants for many years, when measuring PCEs and ACEs, the researchers asked the adult participants to look back at their childhoods. Adult recall of their childhood experiences was recorded at least five years before the outcomes. Also, although the CDC considers income and education to be outcomes related to childhood ACEs[4], the researchers in this study treated them as demographic factors and included them adjusted odds ratios

The study is complex, with many different outcomes and varying, sometimes differing, results. Nevertheless, there is no question that this study supports the central findings that form the foundation of the HOPE framework. All kinds of experiences – positive and adverse – contribute to adult health and well-being.

Collaborate with the HOPE research team

The HOPE framework uses the results from research to better understand the role of PCEs in child development and adult health. Please join us in expanding the research base. If you are a researcher and would like us to highlight your work, or a student looking for research opportunities, or to collaborate with HOPE, please contact us!

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[1] Cher X. Huang, Neal Halfon, Narayan Sastry, Paul J. Chung, Adam Schickedanz; Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Health Outcomes. Pediatrics July 2023; 152 (1): e2022060951. 10.1542/peds.2022-06095

[2] accessed July 24, 2023

[3] Narayan, A.J., Rivera, L.M., Bernstein, R.E., Harris, W.W. and Lieberman, A.F., 2018. Positive childhood experiences predict less psychopathology and stress in pregnant women with childhood adversity: A pilot study of the benevolent childhood experiences (BCEs) scale. Child abuse & neglect78, pp.19-30.

[4] Swedo, E.A., 2023. Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences Among US Adults—Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2011–2020. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report72.

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