Adverse Childhood Experiences and Health Indicators in a Young Adult, College Student Sample: Differences by Gender

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International Journal of Behavioral Medicine





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Background: The original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study demonstrated strong, graded relationships between child maltreatment and household dysfunction and adult health status. The present study re-examined these relationships in a sample of young adult, college students to better characterize the developmental timing of health problems related to ACE exposure and differences by biological sex. Method: A cross-sectional general health questionnaire that included items on ACE was administered to young adults (ages 18–29) at universities in California (n = 3880), Minnesota (n = 7708), and Texas (n = 451) between 2017 and 2018. Seven ACE were assessed: psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; violence between parents; or living with household members who were substance misusers, mentally ill, or ever imprisoned. Binary health indicators were regressed on number of ACE as 0 (referent), 1, 2, 3, and 4 or more using logistic regression controlling for age, biological sex, race/ethnicity, and site. Results: Approximately 51.7% of the sample reported at least one ACE with a significantly higher rate among Texas participants (p < 0.001). We observed graded relationships between levels of ACE exposure and physical, mental, and behavioral health indicators including cigarette use, e-cigarette use, drinking and driving, obesity, lifetime depression, suicide ideation and attempt, non-suicidal self-injury, and lack of restful sleep. ACE-exposed females reported worse mental health status than ACE-exposed males while males reported more substance use than females. Most outcomes did not vary significantly by sex. Conclusion: The strong, graded relationships observed between ACE exposure and health status among young adults reinforce the need for trauma-informed intervention programs on college campuses.


ACE; Young adult; College; Obesity; Smoking; E-cig; Depression; Suicide


Behavioral Medicine | Medical Specialties | Medicine and Health Sciences



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