Unhappy Child, Unhealthy Adult

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We already know that unhappy experiences in childhood are more likely to lead to mental health issues in later life.

What's becoming clear, however, is that chronic stress and anxiety during this time can trigger dramatic changes in the body which contribute to our risk of developing diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke. Chronic stress in childhood is also associated with a shortened life span.

Health-harming behaviours which contribute to disease risk, like smoking, drinking alcohol and drug use, are more common among those who have endured traumatic experiences in childhood.

But scientists are now revealing that these stressful childhood experiences have a direct impact on our physical health, through their impact on the developing brain and the immune system.

The question now is how to use this knowledge to improve the nation's health. Should health professionals routinely ask patients about traumatic events in their childhoods? And if so, who should broach the subject, where and when?

Geoff Watts visits a GP practice which is about to trial this novel idea, and looks at the growing body of evidence revealing how adverse childhood experiences contribute to poor health and shorter lives.

Producer: Beth Eastwood.