The Long Shadow of Childhood Trauma

Assessing the impact of childhood trauma on the physical and mental health of low-income adults

A participant’s quality of life declined with each added exposure to childhood trauma.

Dates of Project: January 2012 to January 2013

Field of Work: Assessing the impact of health insurance on low-income people exposed to childhood trauma

Problem Synopsis: Researchers have documented the negative effects of childhood trauma on adult health, but few have focused on low-income, mostly uninsured adults. And little is known about the effects of access to health insurance on the health of adults who faced childhood trauma.

Synopsis of the Work: Researchers mailed surveys to 12,963 participants in the Oregon Health Study, with questions from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. (Some 50% responded.) The team used the resulting information to calculate a childhood trauma score for each respondent, and to update information on his or her health.

Key Findings:

  • Associations between childhood trauma and risk of depression, hypertension, and obesity were significant.
  • The relationship between childhood trauma and self-reported, health-related quality of life was significant.
  • Exposure to childhood trauma was significantly associated with smoking.

The researchers are now analyzing the effects of access to health insurance on the health of these respondents.


The findings suggest the potential benefits of expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act.

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Low-income adults who faced childhood trauma are at higher risk of hypertension, depression, and obesity