Natalie Slopen
February 7, 2019

Natalie Slopen, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, shared her insights into how trauma experienced during childhood can manifest as chronic illness — even decades later — during an interview with the New Jersey-based NJTV.

Correspondent Michael Hill visited the School of Public Health to speak with Slopen about the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and chronic disease. The interview, which aired in January, was featured in the first segment of a five-part series investigating the physical and psychological effects of a violent or neglectful childhood.

“It could be the case that there are these biological changes happening early in life — like, let’s say, changes to neural structure and function or elevated levels of inflammation — that put individuals on a trajectory of altered biology,” Slopen told NJTV.

Slopen’s work investigates the social influences on health, health disparities and the psychological and biological mechanisms through which childhood experiences increase risk for later chronic diseases. Her recent research examined inflammation in children of mothers who experienced intimate partner violence.

Regarding trauma-induced biological changes, Slopen told NJTV that researchers are working to determine how early they can identify those markers, which can be associated with preventable conditions, like cardiovascular diseases.

“The question is, when do those risks become apparent?” Slopen said.

Answering that question can help the public health community both identify children in need of services and evaluate how effective those interventions are in preventing chronic illness, she said.

The NJTV segment also features Ashanti Jones, 26, who exemplifies the struggle to overcome adverse childhood experiences. With an imprisoned father and a drug-addicted mother, Jones struggled to cope with her trauma and eventually turned to the school guidance counselor for help at age 17.

Now, Jones serves as coordinator for the Neighborhood Ally program at Newark’s South Ward Children’s Alliance, where she brings services to children and families facing trauma.

Watch Slopen's interview here:

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Natalie Slopen