Original Research

Rural–urban differences in exposure to adverse childhood experiences among South Carolina adults


Elizabeth Radcliff1 PhD, Research Assistant Professor *

name here
Elizabeth Crouch2
PhD, Research Assistant Professor

Melissa Strompolis3 PhD, Director of Research and Evaluation


1, 2 South Carolina Rural Health Research Center, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA

3 Children's Trust of South Carolina, Columbia, USA

ACCEPTED: 12 July 2017

early abstract:

Introduction: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur in a child's life between birth and 18 years of age. Exposure to one or more ACE has been linked to participation in risky health behaviors and the experience of chronic health conditions in adulthood. The risk for poor outcomes increases as the number of ACEs experienced increases. This research investigates rural-urban differences in exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) using a sample from a
representative southern state, South Carolina.
Methods: Using data from the 2014-2015 South Carolina
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and residential rurality based on Urban Influence Codes (UICs), ACE exposure among South Carolina adults was tabulated by urban versus rural residence and selected other demographic characteristics. Using standard descriptive statistics, frequencies and proportions were calculated for each categorical
variable. Multivariable regression modeling was used to examine the impact of residential rurality and selected sociodemographic characteristics on overall and specific types of ACE exposure. All analyses used survey sampling weights that accounted for the BRFSS sampling strategy.
Results: The analytic sample of 18,176 respondents was comprised of 15.9% rural residents. Top reported ACEs for both rural and urban residents were the same: 1) parental divorce/separation, 2) emotional abuse, and 3) household substance use. Compared to urban residents, a higher proportion of rural respondents reported experiencing no ACEs (41.4% versus 38.3%, p<0.01). The prevalence of four or more ACEs in rural respondents was 15.0%; in comparison, 17.6% of urban respondents had four or more ACEs (p<0.01). In logistic regression predicting exposure to four or more ACEs and adjusting for sex, age, race/ethnicity, education, and income, rural respondents were less likely than urban respondents to report four or more ACEs (aOR 0.75, 95% CI, 0.74-0.75).
Conclusions: Despite reporting less ACE exposure than urban counterparts, almost 60% of rural residents reported at least one ACE and 15% reported experiencing four or more ACEs. In contrast to urban residents, rural residents may experience more social connections within their families and communities,
which may influence ACE exposure; however, care coordination, social support services, and access to health care are limited in rural areas. Thus, families in rural areas may be less equipped to mitigate and manage the effects of ACEs. Findings
from this study thus suggest that interventions to prevent ACE exposure are just as needed in rural southern communities as they are in urban southern communities. Topics important for future research could include an examination of ACEs in rural
communities in terms of individuals' health outcomes and their access to health care, as well as the role of protective factors. Programs and policies that assist in ACEs prevention in rural areas are important to reducing these multigenerational threats to health and well-being.