Exposure to toxic stress accelerates the wear and tear on children's developing bodies and leaves a lasting mark on adult health. Prior research has focused mainly on children exposed to extreme forms of adversity, such as maltreatment and extreme neglect. However, repeated exposure to less severe, but often chronic stressors is likely to play as large, if not larger, of a role in forecasting children's future mental and physical health. New tools from neuroscience, biology, epigenetics, and the social sciences are helping to isolate when and how the foundations for adult health are shaped by childhood experiences. We are now in the position to understand how adversity, in both extreme and more mundane forms, contributes to the adult health burden and to identify features in children's families and environments that can be strengthened to buffer the effects of toxic stressors. We are also positioned to develop and implement innovative approaches to child policy and practice that are rooted in an understanding of how exposure to toxic stressors can become biologically embedded. The stage is set for the creation of new interventions—on both grand and micro scales—to reduce previously intractable health disparities.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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