Mentions of the ACE Study – the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study — have shown up in the New York Times, This American Life, and Salon.com recently. In the last year, it’s become a buzzword in social services, public health, education, juvenile justice, mental health, pediatrics, criminal justice and even business. Many people say that just as everyone should be aware of her or his cholesterol score, so should everyone know her or his ACE score. But what is this study? And why is it so important to, well, almost everyone in 2012, the same way polio became important to almost everyone in the 1950s? Here’s the backstory.
The ACE Study – probably the most important public health study you never heard of – had its origins in an obesity clinic on a quiet street in San Diego.
It was 1985, and Dr. Vincent Felitti was mystified. The physician, chief of Kaiser Permanente’s revolutionary Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, CA, couldn’t figure out why, each year for the last five years, more than half of the people in his obesity clinic dropped out. Although people who wanted to shed as little as 30 pounds could participate, the clinic was designed for people who were 100 to 600 pounds overweight.
Felitti cut an imposing, yet dashing, figure. Tall, straight-backed, not a silver hair out of place, penetrating eyes, he was a doctor whom patients trusted implicitly, spoke of reverentially and rarely called by his first name. The preventive medicine department he created had become an international beacon for efficient and compassionate care. Every year, more than 50,000 people were screened for diseases that tests and machines could pick up before symptoms appeared. It was the largest medical evaluation site in the world. It was reducing health care costs before reducing health care costs was cool.
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