Childhood adversity is a ‘cause of causes’ of adult illnesses and mental health problems

Every day we are exposed to things like pollution and ultraviolet light which increase our risk of illness. Many people take on additional risks — due to tobacco smoke, fast food or alcohol, for example.

But there is a less-recognized exposure that is even more common than smoking and increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung diseases, sexually transmitted infections, chronic pain, mental illness and reduces one’s life by as much as 20 years.

This public health hazard that hides in plain sight is childhood adversity: experiences like physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.

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