ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — It's no secret that living in tough circumstances can be hard on children and lead to problems with behavior and learning. But some researchers believe that early ongoing stress can smolder, harming young brains and bodies.

Triggers include poverty, neglect and parents' substance abuse. Studies suggest toxic stress can lead to major causes of death and disease in adulthood.

This awareness has prompted a public health approach to identifying and treating the effects of adversity. That includes preschool-based programs offering stress-busting breathing exercises and a recent American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for poverty screening.

Some experts say toxic stress damage can be as severe as any infectious disease.