Poor Individual Risk Classification From Adverse Childhood Experiences Screening

Alan Meehan, Jessie R. Baldwin, Stephanie Lewis, Jelena MacLeod, Andrea Danese

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Adverse childhood experiences confer an increased risk for physical and mental health problems across the population, prompting calls for routine clinical screening based on reported adverse childhood experience exposure. However, recent longitudinal research has questioned whether adverse childhood experiences can accurately identify ill health at an individual level. Methods: Revisiting data collected for the Adverse Childhood Experience Study between 1995 and 1997, this study derived approximate area under the curve estimates to test the ability of the retrospectively reported adverse childhood experience score to discriminate between adults with and without a range of common health risk factors and disease conditions. Furthermore, the classification accuracy of a recommended clinical definition for high-risk exposure (≥4 versus 0–3 adverse childhood experiences) was evaluated on the basis of sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values, and positive likelihood ratios. Results: Across all health outcomes, the levels of discrimination for the continuous adverse childhood experience score ranged from very poor to fair (area under the curve=0.50–0.76). The binary classification of ≥4 versus 0–3 adverse childhood experiences yielded high specificity (true-negative detection) and negative predictive values (absence of ill health among low-risk adverse childhood experience groups). However, sensitivity (true-positive detection) and positive predictive values (presence of ill health among high-risk adverse childhood experience groups) were low, whereas positive likelihood ratios suggested only minimal-to-moderate increases in health risks among individuals reporting ≥4 adverse childhood experiences versus that among those reporting 0–3. Conclusions: These findings suggest that screening based on the adverse childhood experience score does not accurately identify those individuals at high risk of health problems. This can lead to both allocation of unnecessary interventions and lack of provision of necessary support.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-432
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine
Issue number3
Early online date18 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


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