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Written by: Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP® and Martie Gillen, Ph.D., MBA, AFC®, CFLE 

In a previous OneOp research brief, an interdisciplinary health and personal finance study by Harter and Harter (2022) was summarized. Study results provide evidence of  a link between traumatic adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and adult financial insecurity around food and housing expenses.

It was widely known that ACEs have negative, lasting impacts on physical health and wellbeing. This study adds to literature about negative outcomes resulting from ACEs. Results indicated that experiencing more ACEs in childhood was correlated with more financial stress in adulthood. ACEs are life-altering!

Also, adding one more traumatic event to the cumulative total of experienced ACEs increases the probability of food or housing insecurity by about four percentage points. Experiencing more ACEs decreases financial wellbeing, no matter the household income level.

Specifically, at various income levels, financial stress in adulthood was related to childhood trauma, which was self-reported by respondents by recalling what happened in their childhood (i.e., “remembered ACEs”). Financial stress was measured by respondents’ recent self-reported food security and housing security. 

Respondents were asked to answer always, usually, sometimes, rarely, or never to the following two questions:

  • How often in the past 12 months would you say you were worried or stressed about having enough money to buy nutritious meals?
  • How often in the past 12 months would you say you were worried or stressed about having enough money to pay your rent/mortgage?

The most commonly-reported ACEs involved parental behaviors: insulting and abusive language (27%), separation/divorce (25%), and problem drinking/alcoholism (24%). Other ACEs included in the study involved living with a mentally ill/depressed person, witnessing family violence, and child sexual abuse.

Descriptive statistics also indicated that 75% of the sample of 400,000+ respondents rarely or never within the past 12 months experienced stress about having enough money to buy nutritious meals. The variable with the largest positive impact on never experiencing insecurity was income. Age (i.e., being older) was also associated with more food and housing security for all income groups.

Results of this study are an important “lens” for financial practitioners to use in their interactions with clients. In conversations with PFMs, service members may describe difficult childhoods, thereby providing a “window” into the types of ACEs- including experiencing homelessness or food insecurity- that shaped their lives. 

The findings also indicate a need for policies and practices that prevent or reduce the occurrence of ACEs and promote childhood resilience. Targeted programs for adults experiencing financial distress are also needed, such as programs designed for service members’ military journey touchpoints

For additional information about food insecurity and military families, review the OneOp Food Security in Focus webpage.

Photo Credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

Food Security in Focus

2023 MFRA logo wheat icon in front of a blue starTake advantage of OneOp’s Food Security in Focus collection, offering live and on-demand programming related to food security. 

Among our nation’s active-duty service members and their families, an estimated 24 percent are food insecure. Food insecurity adversely impacts racial/ethnic minority populations, lower-income populations, and rural and remote populations. Additionally, a rise in economic insecurity throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to increased food insecurity in vulnerable populations. Join OneOp as we focus on expanding food security for the military family and mobilizing family service professionals at federal, state, and local levels to work together on this issue.

Food Security in Focus