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Healthy Beginnings: Understanding the Impact of Toxic Stress

Dr. Ben Kearney joins Producer Kay Colby in the radio studio

According to experts at Harvard University, in the first few years of life up to 1,000 new connections in a child’s developing brain form every second. Within the past decade, an explosion of brain research has allowed researchers to understand how those connections, as well as other aspects of brain development may be impacted by something known as toxic stress. Toxic stress stems from conditions ranging from physical or sexual abuse to poverty or other issues that cause on-going instability or other forms of trauma in a child’s life.

The ideastream health team is exploring factors that help or hinder healthy development for infants and toddlers. To understand more about toxic stress, Kay Colby sat down with Dr. Ben Kearney, a psychologist with OhioGuidestone -- who with support from the state health department -- has trained over 1000 mental health and child service providers about toxic stress. We join the conversation as Dr. Kearney explains how toxic stress keeps the body’s high alert system – the so called “fight or flight” response -- continually primed for activation.

Toxic Stress, as defined by Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child, involves the "strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity -- such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship -- without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems and increase the risk for stress-related disease and cognitive impairment, well into the adult."

Additional Information & Resources:

Healthy Beginnings multiple media coverage from the ideastream health reporting team

Harvard University - Center on the Developing Child: Toxic Stress

American Journal Of Preventative Medicine: Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults

American Journal of Preventative Medicine: Adverse childhood experiences and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adults


Healthy Beginnings Resource Page