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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Health-Risk Behaviors, and Social Support among Latino Adolescents.

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

The prevention of health-risk behaviors during adolescence has been regarded as a nationwide health priority because these are causally associated with chronic illness, disability, and other leading causes of death among adolescents and adults in the U.S. (Kann et al., 2016). To this end, a growing body of research supports a strong link between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and health-risk behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use, criminality, self-injury, perpetration of interpersonal violence, and self-injurious behavior (Duke et al., 2009; Layne et al., 2014). However, the behavioral consequences of being exposed to ACEs have been strikingly understudied among Latino youth, despite that Latinos are considered an “at-risk group.” To address the gap in the literature, the purpose of this study was to investigate how ACEs was related to health-risk behaviors and the degree in which family cohesion, community support, and social support, moderated this association.

The current cross-sectional study surveyed Latino adolescents (N = 72) recruited through partnerships with community members, community leaders, and school personnel. Participants’ ages ranged from 13 to 18 (M = 15.13; SD = 1.42). In terms of ethnic group, most participants reported being of Mexican (50%) or Guatemalan (37.5%) heritage and about half were U.S.-born (58.3%).

Three major findings emerged. First, differences in rates of Traditional ACEs (e.g., abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction) varied between the national children and adolescent sample and the currrent sample. Most notably, almost twice the percentage of Latinos in this study reported 3 or more ACEs, when compared to the national sample (19.40% versus 11%, respectively; Sacks, Murphey & Moore, 2014). However, the Community ACEs (e.g., family deportation, community violence, discrimination) rates were similar to those reported in the more economically and racially-diverse sample of adults in Philadelphia (Cronholm et al., 2015). Second, contrary to the overwhelming previous literature, Traditional ACEs were not related to increased health-risk behaviors in this study. However, Community ACEs was positively associated with alcohol and drug use (R2 change =.12, β = -.36, t (59) = 2.85, p < .05). Third, both family cohesion (R2 change =.07, β = -.27, t (60) = -2.18, p < .05) and social support (R2 change =.06, β = -.26, t(60) = -2.10, p < .05) moderated the association between Traditional ACEs and tobacco use. Simple slopes analyses indicated that Traditional ACEs were negatively associated with tobacco use at high levels of family cohesion and social support, suggesting a buffering effect.

Empirical findings such as those from this study highlight the growing need to examine ACEs in more diverse populations and look beyond the traditionally studied 10-item ACEs. The lack of direct link between Traditional ACEs and health-risk behaviors potentially speaks to the resilience, strength, and resourcefulness of Latino adolescents, and highlights the need for more research with this understudied population. Culturally relevant evidence-based programs aimed at improving health should use a strength-based approach by highlighting the cultural and personal strengths Latinos possess and explore how those could be used to cope with stressors and improve health.


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