The association between childhood physical abuse and heart disease in adulthood: Findings from a representative community sample

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Child Abuse & Neglect, Volume 34, Issue 9, pp. 689-698.

Fuller-Thomson, Esme
Brennenstuhl, Sarah
Frank, John

Journal article
Canadian CW research

The authors identify physical abuse in childhood as an important early life stressor. Although research has been conducted examining the relationship between childhood physical abuse and a variety of negative mental and physical health outcomes in adulthood, the relationship between childhood physical abuse and heart disease has not been studied extensively. This study used data from the 2005 cycle of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), a cross-sectional survey conducted by Statistics Canada. The present analysis utilized data from an unweighted sample of 13,093 males and females from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as information about childhood physical abuse was collected from these provinces alone in the CCHS. The authors conducted seven consecutive logistic regression analyses, with heart disease as the outcome. The final model adjusted for a wide range of variables, including gender, race, age, childhood stressors (i.e., parental divorce, parental addictions, parental unemployment), adult health risk behaviours (i.e., BMI, smoking, alcohol use, physical activity level), adult stressors (i.e., educational attainment, daily self-reported stress level, diabetes diagnosis), history of mood disorder, and high blood pressure. These variables were adjusted for because previous research has identified that these factors are associated with heart disease. The results of this research demonstrate that 7% of the sample reported childhood physical abuse, and 4% reported health disease as diagnosed by a health professional. When the model adjusted for the wide range of risk factors for heart disease, individuals who reported experiencing childhood physical abuse still had 45% higher odds of having a diagnosis of heart disease, as compared to those that did not report abuse. The results suggest a relationship between physical abuse in childhood and elevated risk of heart disease. This research is limited by its cross-sectional nature, its reliance on retrospective self-report accounts of physical abuse, and its lack of information about the frequency and severity of physical abuse and other forms of maltreatment. The authors conclude that more research in this area is necessary.

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