How trauma can affect nutrition

Trauma and adverse childhood experiences have been linked to negative health behaviors and chronic conditions in adulthood.

Chart source: CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention
Chart source: CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention

Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) can have a life-long effect on individual health status. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente conducted one of the largest research studies on the impact of ACES on health and well-being. ACES have been linked to negative health behaviors (e.g. physical inactivity) and the onset of chronic conditions (e.g. obesity, diabetes, and heart disease), and early death in adulthood. The more ACES that occur, the more an individual is at risk for negative health outcomes. 

Trauma refers to interpersonal violence (e.g. bullying, and domestic violence), social violence (e.g. war, terrorism), natural disasters (e.g. flood and hurricanes), chronic social stressors (e.g. poverty, racism, and cultural dislocation), and child hood traumas (e.g. neglect, sexual and physical abuse). Low income families with children are more likely to experience traumatic stress as a result of violence and concentrated poverty. For some children, daily activities such as walking to school or riding a bike on the street may produce stress. The percentage of children who have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences in Michigan (29 percent) is higher than the national average (23 percent). In the state of Michigan, 40 percent of individuals who experience two or more adverse childhood experiences are African American.

Trauma Affected Communities and Trauma Informed Communities are interchangeable terms used to describe low income communities in which residents are affected by trauma. Some of these communities are engaging in community and partnership building activities that promote healthy living programs such as nutrition education, exercise groups, and gardening. Research demonstrates the consequences of stress and positive impact of nutrition in learning, sleep, mood, and energy .The healthy living programs seek to reduce chaos and stress and cultivate community resilience over time.  One of the primary concepts of the Trauma Informed Approach model created by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) is recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others. Providing nutrition education, physical activity classes, and gardening opportunities in Trauma Informed communities, particularly in schools located within Trauma Informed Communities may require new awareness and diverse skills. Skills that equip individuals with the tools to recognize, diffuse, and encourage potentially traumatized individuals. For children with mental health challenges, it is very important to create a healthy relationship with food to decrease the stress and anxiety that food issues often produce. The link between obesity and adverse childhood experiences provide the opportunity for expanding the role of nutrition education in low income communities affected by trauma and exemplifies the significance of increasing knowledge related to choosing healthy foods during stressful events.

For more information, visit Michigan State University Extension

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