Research shows the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences among Canadian adults

New research from McMaster University has found that roughly three in every five Canadian adults aged 45 to 85 have been exposed to childhood abuse, neglect, intimate partner violence or other household adversity.

The research, which estimates the prevalence of a broad range of adverse childhood experiences, was published in CMAJ Open.

Our research showed that adverse childhood experiences are highly prevalent in the Canadian population, with 62% of Canadian adults aged 45 to 85 reporting at least one exposure."

Divya Joshi, Study's Lead Author and Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, McMaster

The study used data collected from 44,817 participants enrolled in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), a large, national population-based study of health and aging. The participants completed questionnaires about adverse childhood experiences through telephone and face-to-face interviews between 2015 and 2018.

Childhood exposure to physical abuse, intimate partner violence and emotional abuse were the most prevalent types of adverse childhood experiences reported across all participants.

More than one in four adults reported exposure to physical abuse, and one in five reported exposure to intimate partner violence and emotional abuse in childhood.

The researchers also found that reporting of adverse childhood events varied by demographic factors, such as age, sex, socioeconomic status, education and sexual orientation.

People younger than 65 years, women, those with less education, lower annual household income, and those of non-heterosexual orientation reported greater exposure. "We found that adverse childhood experiences were highly prevalent across all demographic groups, although some groups experienced an unequal or greater burden," Joshi said.

The research also showed that exposure to adverse childhood events varied across Canadian provinces. "This research shows that strategies are needed to increase awareness of adverse childhood experiences and their long-lasting consequences," said Andrea Gonzalez, a member of the research team and an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster.

"We need to take measures to improve the quality of household environments, support positive parenting and promote healthy child development, as well as integrate trauma-informed care to prevent the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences," added Gonzalez, who is a member of the Offord Centre for Child Studies and the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging.


  1. Frank Sterle Frank Sterle Canada says:

    Clearly, the trauma of unhindered child abuse/neglect can result in his/her brain improperly developing or being damaged. If allowed to continue for a prolonged period, it acts as the helpless child’s starting point into an adolescence and (in particular) an adulthood in which its brain uncontrollably releases potentially damaging levels of inflammation-promoting stress hormones and chemicals, even in non-stressful daily routines.

    Meanwhile, general society perceives thus treats human procreative rights as though we’ll somehow, in blind anticipation, be innately inclined to sufficiently understand and appropriately nurture our children’s naturally developing minds and needs. I find that mentality — however widely practiced — wrong and needing re-evaluation, however unlikely that will ever happen.

    Therefore, I'd like to see secondary-high-school child-development science curriculum implemented, which ideally would include some psychology and neurodiversity lessons (albeit not overly complicated). It would be course material, however, considerably more detailed than what's already covered by the current basic home-economics (etcetera) classes, which typically is diaper changing, baby feeding and so forth.

    I wonder how many instances there have been wherein immense long-term suffering by children of dysfunctional rearing might have been prevented had the parent(s) received, as high school students, some crucial parenting or child development education by way of mandatory curriculum? After all, dysfunctional and/or abusive parents, for example, may not have had the chance to be anything else due to their lack of such education and their own dysfunctional/abusive rearing as children.

    For decades, I have strongly felt that a psychologically and emotionally sound (as well as a physically healthy) future should be all children’s foremost right — especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter — and therefore child development science should be learned long before the average person has their first child.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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