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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Psychiatry 1/2017

Does continuous trusted adult support in childhood impart life-course resilience against adverse childhood experiences - a retrospective study on adult health-harming behaviours and mental well-being

BMC Psychiatry > Ausgabe 1/2017
Mark A. Bellis, Katie Hardcastle, Kat Ford, Karen Hughes, Kathryn Ashton, Zara Quigg, Nadia Butler
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​s12888-017-1260-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
This article has been updated to correct a formatting error in Fig. 1.
An erratum to this article is available at http://​dx.​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12888-017-1305-3.



Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) including child abuse and household problems (e.g. domestic violence) increase risks of poor health and mental well-being in adulthood. Factors such as having access to a trusted adult as a child may impart resilience against developing such negative outcomes. How much childhood adversity is mitigated by such resilience is poorly quantified. Here we test if access to a trusted adult in childhood is associated with reduced impacts of ACEs on adoption of health-harming behaviours and lower mental well-being in adults.


Cross-sectional, face-to-face household surveys (aged 18–69 years, February-September 2015) examining ACEs suffered, always available adult (AAA) support from someone you trust in childhood and current diet, smoking, alcohol consumption and mental well-being were undertaken in four UK regions. Sampling used stratified random probability methods (n = 7,047). Analyses used chi squared, binary and multinomial logistic regression.


Adult prevalence of poor diet, daily smoking and heavier alcohol consumption increased with ACE count and decreased with AAA support in childhood. Prevalence of having any two such behaviours increased from 1.8% (0 ACEs, AAA support, most affluent quintile of residence) to 21.5% (≥4 ACEs, lacking AAA support, most deprived quintile). However, the increase was reduced to 7.1% with AAA support (≥4 ACEs, most deprived quintile). Lower mental well-being was 3.27 (95% CIs, 2.16–4.96) times more likely with ≥4 ACEs and AAA support from someone you trust in childhood (vs. 0 ACE, with AAA support) increasing to 8.32 (95% CIs, 6.53–10.61) times more likely with ≥4 ACEs but without AAA support in childhood. Multiple health-harming behaviours combined with lower mental well-being rose dramatically with ACE count and lack of AAA support in childhood (adjusted odds ratio 32.01, 95% CIs 18.31–55.98, ≥4 ACEs, without AAA support vs. 0 ACEs, with AAA support).


Adverse childhood experiences negatively impact mental and physical health across the life-course. Such impacts may be substantively mitigated by always having support from an adult you trust in childhood. Developing resilience in children as well as reducing childhood adversity are critical if low mental well-being, health-harming behaviours and their combined contribution to non-communicable disease are to be reduced.
Additional file 1: Web Table 1. Adverse childhood experiences, health-harming behaviours and trusted adult status questions used in the survey. Description of data: Provides the questions used to measure the main outcomes used in the study and the qualifying responses. (DOCX 98 kb)
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