A study finds that risk factors are determined early, its director says at a Tulsa lecture.

The risk factors for the nation's top 10 causes of death are determined in early childhood, the director of an ongoing health study in California said.

Dr. Vincent Felliti said the public health problems facing adults can be traced to the number of negative experiences in childhood, based on his Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

"We found many chronic diseases in adults are determined many years earlier in their childhood, not by childhood disease like I once thought, but by their experiences in childhood," he said.

Felliti presented his findings Friday at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa in an appearance sponsored by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and the Tulsa Community Service Council.

The study has been tracking the health of about 17,500 middle-class, middle-age people in California. It is a project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Preventive Medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego.

The project got started when Felliti noticed that many of the successful people in his weight-loss program dropped out. Investigation showed that the problems were not about weight but about childhood psychological trauma.

Adult risk behaviors such as smoking, overeating, substance abuse or promiscuity are often masks for other problems, he said.

"It is easy to blow them off as bad habits, destructive behaviors or addictive personalities," Felliti said. "It is comfortable to hide the functionality of those aspects. What needs attention is what is the function of those and what makes it hard to give them up?"

The study gave a number to 10 negative childhood experiences such as abuse, divorce and having an incarcerated parent.

The more negative experiences a child went through, the more likely he is to engage in risky behaviors as an adult. Those behaviors lead to public health problems such as obesity and heart disease, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases.

Interventions include prevention programs to protect children and changes in routine medical care to explore the psychological aspects of patient care, Felliti said.

To treat patients more thoroughly, the California center changed its initial questionnaire to include more personal history in addition to biological health, Felliti said.

"It is feasible, affordable and acceptable," he said. "It will save primary medical care physicians from treating symptoms and deal with the underlying causes. We feel it is an ideal standard as an entry mechanism into medical care."

The study did not break down when the negative experiences happened in the patients' lives.

"But in looking back on what we know, the earlier in life those experiences occurred, the more destructive it is later in life," Felliti said. "Those are more likely hard-wired when the brain is being formed and not much has occurred to aid in resiliency.

"Resiliency is not innate," he said. "It is created by good life experiences by another person who cares, even if that person is peripheral."

Web site: www.acestudy.org

Ginnie Graham 581-8376