Child abuse and physical health in adulthood

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Child abuse and physical health in adulthood. Health Reports, 27(3), 10–18.

A large literature exists on the association between child abuse and mental health, but less is known about associations with physical health. The study objective was to determine if several types of child abuse were related to an increased likelihood of negative physical health outcomes in a nationally representative sample of Canadian adults.

Data are from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health (n = 23,395). The study sample was representative of the Canadian population aged 18 or older. Child physical abuse, sexual abuse, and exposure to intimate partner violence were assessed in relation to self-perceived general health and 13 self-reported, physician-diagnosed physical conditions.

All child abuse types were associated with having a physical condition (odds ratios = 1.4 to 2.0) and increased odds of obesity (odds ratios = 1.2 to 1.4). Abuse in childhood was associated with arthritis, back problems, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, chronic bronchitis/emphysema/COPD, cancer, stroke, bowel disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome in adulthood, even when sociodemographic characteristics, smoking, and obesity were taken into account (odds ratios = 1.1 to 2.6). Child abuse remained significantly associated with back problems, migraine headaches, and bowel disease when further adjusting for mental conditions and other physical conditions (odds ratios = 1.2 to 1.5). Sex was a significant moderator between child abuse and back problems, chronic bronchitis/emphysema/COPD, cancer, and chronic fatigue syndrome, with slightly stronger effects for women than men.

Abuse in childhood was associated with increased odds of having 9 of the 13 physical conditions assessed in this study and reduced self-perceived general health in adulthood. Awareness of associations between child abuse and physical conditions is important in the provision of health care.

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