25 July 2018
Child physical abuse (CPA) is an extensive public health problem because of its associations with poor health outcomes. The aim of this study was to examine which of the background factors of CPA committed by a parent or other caregiver relates to self-reported poor health among girls and boys (13; 15 and 17 years old): perpetrator, last year exposure; severity and frequency; socioeconomic load and foreign background.
In a cross-sectional study in a Swedish county (n = 8024) a path analysis was performed to evaluate a model where all background variables were put as predictors of three health-status variables: mental; physical and general health problems. In a second step a log linear analysis was performed to examine how the distribution over the health-status categories was different for different combinations of background factors.
Children exposed to CPA reported poor health to a much higher extent than those who were not exposed. In the path analysis it was found that frequency and severity of abuse (boys only) and having experienced CPA during the last year, was significantly associated with poor health as well as socioeconomic load in the families. Foreign background was significantly negatively associated with all three health indicators especially for girls. Neither mother nor father as perpetrator remained significant in the path analysis, while the results from the log linear analyses showed that mother-abuse did in fact relate to poor general health and mental as well as physical health problems among boys and girls. Father-abuse was associated with poor mental health if severe abuse was reported. Poor mental health was also associated with mild father-abuse if exposure during the last year was reported.
Despite the limitations that cross-sectional studies imply, this study provides new knowledge about factors associated with poor health among physically abused children. It describes details of CPA that have significant associations to different aspects of poor health and thus what needs to be addressed by professionals within mental health providers and social services. Understanding how different factors may contribute to different health outcomes for exposed children is important in future research and needs further studies.