Racial/Ethnic Inequities in Adverse Childhood Experiences and Selected Health-Related Behaviors and Problems Among Maryland Adolescents

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We examined racial/ethnic inequities in the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and examined the association between ACEs and selected health-related behaviors and problems. Data for this cross-sectional study come from the 2018 Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey/Youth Tobacco Survey, a statewide survey of high school students (n = 40,188). ACEs included caregiver verbal abuse and household food insecurity, substance use or gambling, mental illness, and involvement with the criminal justice system. We estimated the prevalence of ACEs overall and by race/ethnicity, and then used multiple logistic regression to determine associations between ACEs and emotional/behavioral problems, adjusting for race/ethnicity. Outcome variables included emotional distress, poor school performance, suicidal ideation, fighting, alcohol use, and marijuana use. More than one fifth of students reported each individual ACE. Differences in the prevalence of ACEs by race/ethnicity were statistically significant (p <.001). More than one fourth (25.8%) reported one of the five ACEs, 15.1% reported two, and 15.4% reported three or more. For each ACE, reporting having experienced it (vs. not) was associated with a >30% higher prevalence for each of the outcome variables. Among students who reported three or more ACEs (relative to none), the odds of emotional distress and suicidal ideation were more than 8 times greater. Among Maryland adolescents, ACEs are common, are inequitably distributed by race/ethnicity, and are strongly linked to behavioral health. Findings suggest the need to monitor ACEs as a routine component of adolescent health surveillance and to refocus assessment and intervention toward “upstream” factors that shape adolescent health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-940
Number of pages6
JournalHealth promotion practice
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • ACEs
  • adverse childhood experiences
  • behavioral health
  • behavioral surveillance
  • child/adolescent health
  • emotional/behavioral problems
  • structural racism
  • substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nursing (miscellaneous)


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