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Childhood Maltreatment Linked to Greater Risk for Health Problems Later

People who experienced one or more forms of maltreatment in childhood have a higher chance of developing several types of health conditions in later life, according to a new U.K. study published in the Journal of Comorbidity.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow analyzed UK Biobank data from more than 157,000 participants to examine the link between the four forms of childhood maltreatment — physical, sexual, emotional and neglect — and the presence of multiple health conditions, known as multimorbidity, later in adult life.

The team found that those who had experienced all four types of maltreatment were five times as likely to have four or more long-term health conditions, than those who reported experiencing no childhood maltreatment.

When compared with no experience of childhood maltreatment, participants experiencing all four types of maltreatment were more likely to be socially isolated, and more than three times as likely to report poor self-rated health, loneliness, frailty, and chronic widespread pain.

In addition, experiencing a greater number of types of childhood maltreatment was also linked to a higher prevalence of mental health conditions.

The researchers also found that experience of just one type of childhood maltreatment was associated with long term health conditions, including long term pain and frailty.

While experiencing multiple types of childhood maltreatment was relatively rare, the study found that, overall, child maltreatment impacts a high proportion of people, with 33% of the participants included in the study reporting at least one form of maltreatment.

“Our findings are in keeping with the growing body of research looking at the impact of childhood adversity on future health and social outcomes,” said Professor Frances Mair, Norie Miller Professor of General Practice at the University of Glasgow, who led the study.

“Our work, alongside other studies suggests in this area, suggests that childhood maltreatment can have consequences in later life, including the development of multimorbidity in adulthood.

“Our findings suggest people experiencing childhood maltreatment are not only at risk of higher numbers of long term health conditions in adulthood, but they are also experiencing factors that will complicate self-management and practitioner work —such as mental health problems and isolation — with implications for the resources needed to manage these patients well.”

There is a growing interest in the wider impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), which include child maltreatment as well as domestic violence, parental abandonment, a parent with a mental health condition, a family member in prison, or an adult in the household experiencing drug or alcohol problems.

These childhood experiences are already known to have strong associations with multiple poor social and health outcomes, and result in a significant economic burden. Further, experience of maltreatment is already associated with increased risk factors for chronic disease and a range of different physical and mental health conditions.

“Multimorbidity is a major global challenge. As well as ensuring adequate support for patients experiencing complex multimorbidity, the importance of prevention is paramount,” said Dr. Peter Hanlon, one of the lead authors.

Joint lead author Dr. Marianne McCallum added, “Investing in prevention and support of early childhood adversity could result in improved health outcomes in the future. Our results add to the evidence that efforts to mitigate the impact of childhood adversity should be seen as public health measures.”

Source: SAGE

Childhood Maltreatment Linked to Greater Risk for Health Problems Later

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Childhood Maltreatment Linked to Greater Risk for Health Problems Later. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 22 Aug 2020 (Originally: 20 Aug 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 22 Aug 2020
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