It has been well established that survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to experience negative psychological outcomes than adults with no history of maltreatment. Specifically, individuals who have experienced physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during childhood have higher rates of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and drug and alcohol problems than people with no history of abuse. Some research has even suggested that the stress and maladaptive symptoms that are produced as a result of childhood abuse can negatively impact physical health and increase the risk for diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Because the relationship between childhood abuse and metabolic health in later life has not been fully explored, Aimee J. Midei of the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh sought to make this topic the focus of her most recent research.
Midei believes that early identification of individuals at risk for negative metabolic outcomes could lessen the likelihood of physical ailments and even premature death. For her study, Midei enrolled 342 adult women and assessed their levels of childhood abuse using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Over the next 7 years, the women were screened for metabolic syndrome during annual check-ups. Midei discovered that more than one-third of the women were survivors of some form of childhood maltreatment, including sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. However, it was only the physical abuse that appeared to clearly affect adult metabolic levels.
When Midei examined the women and compared the types of abuse they experienced in childhood to their adult physical metabolic levels, she found that sexual abuse and emotional abuse did not directly contribute to any metabolic syndrome. However, the women who had survived physical abuse were twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome in adulthood as those women who had survived other types of childhood abuse. These findings were sustained even when other factors, such as socioeconomic status and mental health problems, were considered. Midei believes these results clearly demonstrate the need for increased prevention and detection of childhood abuse. She added, “It is possible that clinicians and clinical researchers may improve the trajectory of mental and physical health outcomes for victims of interpersonal violence.”
Midei, A. J., Matthews, K. A., Chang, Y.-F., Bromberger, J. T. (2012). Childhood physical abuse is associated with incident metabolic syndrome in mid-life women. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027891
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