Recognition that economic, environmental, and social adversity affects health is not new; adversity may result from social determinants such as poverty, community violence, or poor nutrition; from within the family/caregiving environment; or interactions between these complex environs. However, compelling new research demonstrating the profound impact of cumulative early adversity and toxic stress on development and adult health is leading to the mobilization of global prevention and intervention efforts to attain and assure better health for populations across the world. In this paper, we begin with a global population perspective on adversity and discuss priorities for global health. We then turn to studies of adverse childhood experiences to consider current understanding of how early experiences impact brain development and short- and long-term health. Factors that build resilience and buffer the effects of toxic stress and adversity are described, with emphasis on the foundationally protective role of safe and nurturing caregiving relationships. We discuss the implications of these findings in terms of community health and present a participatory research paradigm as a relationship-based method to improve community engagement in identifying and mitigating the impact of adverse childhood experiences on health.
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