How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime

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Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.

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fcd5b8d6e2d02ef8b3781f19b13e88669f4c17c0_254x191Nadine Burke Harris’ healthcare practice focuses on a little-understood, yet very common factor in childhood that can profoundly impact adult-onset disease: trauma.

Why you should listen

Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris noticed a disturbing trend as she treated children in an underserved neighborhood in San Francisco: that many of the kids who came to see her had experienced childhood trauma. She began studying how childhood exposure to adverse events affects brain development, as well as a person’s health as an adult.

Understanding this powerful correlation, Burke Harris became the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness, an initiative at the California Pacific Medical Center Bayview Child Health Center that seeks to create a clinical model that recognizes and effectively treats toxic stress in children. Her work pushes the health establishment to reexamine its relationship to social risk factors, and advocates for medical interventions to counteract the damaging impact of stress. Her goal: to change the standard of pediatric practice, across demographics.

What others say

“[Nadine Burke Harris] believes that regarding childhood trauma as a medical issue helps her to treat more effectively the symptoms of patients. Moreover, she believes, this approach, when applied to a large population, might help alleviate the broader dysfunction that plagues poor neighborhoods.” — The New Yorker

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