Study: Chronic health problems linked to childhood abuse and neglect among inner-city women

Adding to the growing body of research on the ripple effects of childhood trauma, a new study from Case Western Reserve University has found a link between childhood mistreatment and chronic health conditions in adulthood.

The participants included 279 primarily poor, urban and African American women with a history of substance use during pregnancy who were recruited after giving birth in a Cleveland teaching hospital between the years 1994 and 1996. They were part of a larger cohort of women participating in a series of studies examining the impact of prenatal cocaine exposure on childhood development.

The women were periodically assessed on a range of physical and behavioral health factors when their children were 4, 6, 11 and 12 years of age.  

Seventy percent of the participants reported experiencing some form of childhood abuse or neglect, 42 percent indicated a lifetime history of substance use and 59 percent had a chronic medical condition. The most common problems reported included hypertension, pulmonary diseases and chronic pain.

After accounting for age, race and education, the research team found that the impact of childhood maltreatment was linked to chronic health conditions through lifetime drug dependence, smoking, more frequent adverse life events and greater psychosocial distress.

In a statement released by the university, lead author Meeyoung O. Min advocated for an increased awareness of the impact childhood abuse and neglect has on physical health. She added that the study’s findings could be used to design personalized interventions to help women who experienced childhood trauma avoid the behaviors that are so detrimental to their long-term physical and mental health. 

The study, “Pathways linking childhood maltreatment and adult physical health,” appeared in the June issue of the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.