With the advent of the sustainable development goals, the field of global child health has shifted its focus from reducing mortality to improving health, nutrition and development outcomes — often measured as human capital. A growing knowledge of the biology of development and neuroscience has highlighted the importance of adverse environmental exposures, collectively termed adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on health outcomes. ACEs are associated with short-term, medium-term and long-term negative consequences for health and development and their effects may be multiplicative, especially during critical periods of sensitivity and developmental plasticity. Some of these effects are compounded by emerging global threats such as climate change, conflict and population displacement. In this Review, we discuss the key mechanisms linking ACEs to health outcomes and consider promising strategies to prevent and mitigate their effects, highlighting evidence from programs in low-income and middle-income countries. Finally, we emphasize the need for early recognition of ACEs and delivery of packages of interventions spanning key sectors such as health, education, women’s empowerment and social protection.
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The authors are grateful to T. Vaivada for support in drawing Fig. 1, and to A. Ali for assistance in manuscript formatting. No funding was secured for this work.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Bhutta, Z.A., Bhavnani, S., Betancourt, T.S. et al. Adverse childhood experiences and lifelong health. Nat Med 29, 1639–1648 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-023-02426-0
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