New research has traced chronic health problems of inner-city women to abuse and neglect in childhood.
The new study from Case Western Reserve University provides further evidence linking childhood mistreatment to serious health issues in adults, said Meeyoung O. Min, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at the university.
Min’s research team focused on inner-city women who participated in a series of studies examining the development of children with prenatal exposure to cocaine.
After ruling out factors such as age, education and race, the researchers found that childhood trauma affects physical health in adulthood through lifetime drug dependence, smoking, more adverse life events and greater psychological distress.
The study also found that emotional struggles and life difficulties, such as financial and family-related issues — as well as being re-victimized as adults — resulted in health problems among young urban women with a history of substance use.
The study examined data from 279 women who gave birth at a large, publicly subsidized teaching hospital in Cleveland between 1994 and 1996. They were among 404 mothers with newborns recruited for a series of studies on the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on their children’s development.
About eight in 10 were African-American; about half used cocaine during pregnancy. One-fourth were married, 98 percent were of low socioeconomic status, and about half were unemployed when they gave birth. More than one in four of the women had lost custody of their children. They ranged in age from 31 to 54, with an average age of 40, when their physical health was assessed.
Seven in 10 reported one or more types of childhood maltreatment: sexual abuse (32 percent), physical abuse (45 percent), emotional abuse (37 percent), emotional neglect (30 percent) and physical neglect (45 percent).
About half also reported a chronic medical condition, mainly hypertension, pulmonary diseases and pain syndromes.
The women provided information about their lives and children in five-hour research sessions when their children were 4, 6, 11 and 12 years old. Information included their personal accounts of childhood trauma; responses from health surveys; diagnostic examination of addiction to alcohol, cocaine or marijuana; the kinds of everyday life stresses experienced; and psychological distress and the toll it took on their lives.
Min said the women were quite young to have such chronic health problems. The study raises concerns for their health and quality of life as they age, she noted.
Min added she hopes interventions can be developed to help these women avoid behaviors that lead to dependence on tobacco and illegal substances, additional trauma, and other mental health issues.
She noted that health care providers also need to be aware of childhood abuse and trauma as a potential contributor to health problems, especially among women in urban, low-income communities. She also hopes the study’s findings will lead the health care community to design more personalized treatment for these women.
Given their role in fostering the emotional and cognitive development of their children, women with childhood trauma potentially place their children at risk through a continuing range of adverse life events or poor parenting.
“The cycle can repeat itself,” Min said.
Source: Case Western Reserve University