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      The Long-Term Health Consequences of Child Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, and Neglect: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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          Abstract

          Rosana Norman and colleagues conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the relationship between child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect, and subsequent mental and physical health outcomes.

          Abstract

          Background

          Child sexual abuse is considered a modifiable risk factor for mental disorders across the life course. However the long-term consequences of other forms of child maltreatment have not yet been systematically examined. The aim of this study was to summarise the evidence relating to the possible relationship between child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect, and subsequent mental and physical health outcomes.

          Methods and Findings

          A systematic review was conducted using the Medline, EMBASE, and PsycINFO electronic databases up to 26 June 2012. Published cohort, cross-sectional, and case-control studies that examined non-sexual child maltreatment as a risk factor for loss of health were included. All meta-analyses were based on quality-effects models. Out of 285 articles assessed for eligibility, 124 studies satisfied the pre-determined inclusion criteria for meta-analysis. Statistically significant associations were observed between physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect and depressive disorders (physical abuse [odds ratio (OR) = 1.54; 95% CI 1.16–2.04], emotional abuse [OR = 3.06; 95% CI 2.43–3.85], and neglect [OR = 2.11; 95% CI 1.61–2.77]); drug use (physical abuse [OR = 1.92; 95% CI 1.67–2.20], emotional abuse [OR = 1.41; 95% CI 1.11–1.79], and neglect [OR = 1.36; 95% CI 1.21–1.54]); suicide attempts (physical abuse [OR = 3.40; 95% CI 2.17–5.32], emotional abuse [OR = 3.37; 95% CI 2.44–4.67], and neglect [OR = 1.95; 95% CI 1.13–3.37]); and sexually transmitted infections and risky sexual behaviour (physical abuse [OR = 1.78; 95% CI 1.50–2.10], emotional abuse [OR = 1.75; 95% CI 1.49–2.04], and neglect [OR = 1.57; 95% CI 1.39–1.78]). Evidence for causality was assessed using Bradford Hill criteria. While suggestive evidence exists for a relationship between maltreatment and chronic diseases and lifestyle risk factors, more research is required to confirm these relationships.

          Conclusions

          This overview of the evidence suggests a causal relationship between non-sexual child maltreatment and a range of mental disorders, drug use, suicide attempts, sexually transmitted infections, and risky sexual behaviour. All forms of child maltreatment should be considered important risks to health with a sizeable impact on major contributors to the burden of disease in all parts of the world. The awareness of the serious long-term consequences of child maltreatment should encourage better identification of those at risk and the development of effective interventions to protect children from violence.

          Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary

          Editors' Summary

          Background

          Child maltreatment—the abuse and neglect of children—is a global problem. There are four types of child maltreatment—sexual abuse (the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not understand, is unable to give consent to, or is not developmentally prepared for), physical abuse (the use of physical force that harms the child's health, survival, development, or dignity), emotional abuse (the failure to provide a supportive environment by, for example, verbally threatening the child), and neglect (the failure to provide for all aspects of the child's well-being). Most child maltreatment is perpetrated by parents or parental guardians, many of whom were maltreated themselves as children. Other risk factors for parents abusing their children include poverty, mental health problems, and alcohol and drug misuse. Although there is considerable uncertainty about the frequency and severity of child maltreatment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) about 20% of women and 5%–10% of men report being sexually abused as children, and the prevalence of physical abuse in childhood may be 25%–50%.

          Why Was This Study Done?

          Child maltreatment has a large public health impact. Sometimes this impact is immediate and direct (injuries and deaths), but, more often, it is long-term, affecting emotional development and overall health. For child sexual abuse, the relationship between abuse and mental disorders in adult life is well-established. Exposure to other forms of child maltreatment has also been associated with a wide range of psychological and behavioral problems, but the health consequences of physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect have not been systematically examined. A better understanding of the long-term health effects of child maltreatment is needed to inform maltreatment prevention strategies and to improve treatment for children who have been abused or neglected. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, the researchers quantify the association between exposure to physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect in childhood and mental health and physical health outcomes in later life. A systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic; a meta-analysis is a statistical approach that combines the results of several studies.

          What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

          The researchers identified 124 studies that investigated the relationship between child physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect and various health outcomes. Their meta-analysis of data from these studies provides suggestive evidence that child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect are causally linked to mental and physical health outcomes. For example, emotionally abused individuals had a three-fold higher risk of developing a depressive disorder than non-abused individuals (an odds ratio [OR] of 3.06). Physically abused and neglected individuals also had a higher risk of developing a depressive disorder than non-abused individuals (ORs of 1.54 and 2.11, respectively). Other mental health disorders associated with child physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect included anxiety disorders, drug abuse, and suicidal behavior. Individuals who had been non-sexually maltreated as children also had a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases and/or risky sexual behavior than non-maltreated individuals. Finally, there was weak and inconsistent evidence that child maltreatment increased the risk of chronic diseases and lifestyle risk factors such as smoking.

          What Do These Findings Mean?

          By providing suggestive evidence of a causal link between non-sexual child maltreatment and mental health disorders, drug use, suicide attempts, and sexually transmitted diseases and risky sexual behavior, these findings contribute to our understanding of the non-injury health impacts of child maltreatment. Although most of the studies included in the meta-analysis were undertaken in high-income countries, the findings suggest that this link occurs in both high- and low-to-middle-income countries. They also suggest that neglect may be as harmful as physical and emotional abuse. However, they need to be interpreted carefully because of the limitations of this meta-analysis, which include the possibility that children who have been abused may share other, unrecognized factors that are actually the cause of their later mental health problems. Importantly, this confirmation that physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect in childhood are important risk factors for a range of health problems draws attention to the need to develop evidence-based strategies for preventing child maltreatment both to reduce childhood suffering and to alleviate an important risk factor for later health problems.

          Additional Information

          Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001349.

          Related collections

          Most cited references 137

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          Ordinary magic. Resilience processes in development.

           A. S. Masten (2001)
          The study of resilience in development has overturned many negative assumptions and deficit-focused models about children growing up under the threat of disadvantage and adversity. The most surprising conclusion emerging from studies of these children is the ordinariness of resilience. An examination of converging findings from variable-focused and person-focused investigations of these phenomena suggests that resilience is common and that it usually arises from the normative functions of human adaptational systems, with the greatest threats to human development being those that compromise these protective systems. The conclusion that resilience is made of ordinary rather than extraordinary processes offers a more positive outlook on human development and adaptation, as well as direction for policy and practice aimed at enhancing the development of children at risk for problems and psychopathology.
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            Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of depressive disorders in adulthood.

            Research examining the association between childhood abuse and depressive disorders has frequently assessed abuse categorically, thus not permitting discernment of the cumulative impact of multiple types of abuse. As previous research has documented that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are highly interrelated, we examined the association between the number of such experiences (ACE score) and the risk of depressive disorders. Retrospective cohort study of 9460 adult health maintenance organization members in a primary care clinic in San Diego, CA who completed a survey addressing a variety of health-related concerns, which included standardized assessments of lifetime and recent depressive disorders, childhood abuse and household dysfunction. Lifetime prevalence of depressive disorders was 23%. Childhood emotional abuse increased risk for lifetime depressive disorders, with adjusted odds ratios (ORs) of 2.7 [95% confidence interval (CI), 2.3-3.2] in women and 2.5 (95% CI, 1.9-3.2) in men. We found a strong, dose-response relationship between the ACE score and the probability of lifetime and recent depressive disorders (P<0.0001). This relationship was attenuated slightly when a history of growing up with a mentally ill household member was included in the model, but remained significant (P<0.001). The number of ACEs has a graded relationship to both lifetime and recent depressive disorders. These results suggest that exposure to ACEs is associated with increased risk of depressive disorders up to decades after their occurrence. Early recognition of childhood abuse and appropriate intervention may thus play an important role in the prevention of depressive disorders throughout the life span.
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              Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: the adverse childhood experiences study.

               S. Dube,  V. Felitti,  M. Dong (2003)
              Illicit drug use is identified in Healthy People 2010 as a leading health indicator because it is associated with multiple deleterious health outcomes, such as sexually transmitted diseases, human immunodeficiency virus, viral hepatitis, and numerous social problems among adolescents and adults. Improved understanding of the influence of stressful or traumatic childhood experiences on initiation and development of drug abuse is needed. We examined the relationship between illicit drug use and 10 categories of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and total number of ACEs (ACE score). A retrospective cohort study of 8613 adults who attended a primary care clinic in California completed a survey about childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction; illicit drug use; and other health-related issues. The main outcomes measured were self-reported use of illicit drugs, including initiation during 3 age categories: or=19 years); lifetime use for each of 4 birth cohorts dating back to 1900; drug use problems; drug addiction; and parenteral drug use. Each ACE increased the likelihood for early initiation 2- to 4-fold. The ACE score had a strong graded relationship to initiation of drug use in all 3 age categories as well as to drug use problems, drug addiction, and parenteral drug use. Compared with people with 0 ACEs, people with >or=5 ACEs were 7- to 10-fold more likely to report illicit drug use problems, addiction to illicit drugs, and parenteral drug use. The attributable risk fractions as a result of ACEs for each of these illicit drug use problems were 56%, 64%, and 67%, respectively. For each of the 4 birth cohorts examined, the ACE score also had a strong graded relationship to lifetime drug use. The ACE score had a strong graded relationship to the risk of drug initiation from early adolescence into adulthood and to problems with drug use, drug addiction, and parenteral use. The persistent graded relationship between the ACE score and initiation of drug use for 4 successive birth cohorts dating back to 1900 suggests that the effects of adverse childhood experiences transcend secular changes such as increased availability of drugs, social attitudes toward drugs, and recent massive expenditures and public information campaigns to prevent drug use. Because ACEs seem to account for one half to two third of serious problems with drug use, progress in meeting the national goals for reducing drug use will necessitate serious attention to these types of common, stressful, and disturbing childhood experiences by pediatric practice.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: Academic Editor
                Journal
                PLoS Med
                PLoS Med
                PLoS
                plosmed
                PLoS Medicine
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                1549-1277
                1549-1676
                November 2012
                November 2012
                27 November 2012
                : 9
                : 11
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Queensland Children's Medical Research Institute, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia
                [2 ]School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia
                [3 ]Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
                [4 ]Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, The Park Centre for Mental Health, Wacol, Queensland, Australia
                [5 ]Metro North Mental Health, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Herston, Queensland, Australia
                [6 ]The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, Herston, Queensland, Australia
                Stellenbosch University, South Africa
                Author notes

                The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: REN TV. Performed the experiments: REN MB RD. Analyzed the data: REN MB. Wrote the first draft of the manuscript: REN. Contributed to the writing of the manuscript: REN MB RD AB JS TV. ICMJE criteria for authorship read and met: REN MB RD AB JS TV. Agree with manuscript results and conclusions: REN MB RD AB JS TV.

                Article
                PMEDICINE-D-12-00821
                10.1371/journal.pmed.1001349
                3507962
                23209385

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 31
                Funding
                This work was supported by a University of Queensland Start-up-Grant. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Alexander Butchart is a staff member of the World Health Organization. The author alone is responsible for the views expressed in this publication and they do not necessarily represent the decisions, policy or views of the World Health Organization.
                Categories
                Research Article
                Medicine
                Pediatrics
                Adolescent Medicine
                Child Abuse
                Child Development
                Public Health
                Behavioral and Social Aspects of Health
                Child Health

                Medicine

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