In a new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), researchers demonstrate an association between child abuse and risk for type 2 diabetes in women. These findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on November 9.
Previous work has identified associations of childhood abuse and with adult obesity and stress responsivity, both of which may link child abuse with diabetes through physiologic pathways. “There have also been a number of small scale studies demonstrating a potential relationship between child abuse and risk for type 2 diabetes,” said lead study author Janet Rich-Edwards, ScD, Director of Developmental Epidemiology at the Connors Center for Women’s Health at BWH. “However, there are limitations to using small study samples, prompting us to examine this association in a larger cohort.”
The researchers examined data from nearly 68,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II, looking at reported lifetime abuse in 2001 and corresponding risk of diabetes from 1989 through 2005. More than half of participants reported mild to severe physical abuse as a child or teen and more than 30 percent reported experiencing sexual abuse. Compared to women who reported no physical or sexual abuse, those who reported moderate to severe abuse experienced a dose-response association of abuse with risk of diabetes. “The more severe the reported abuse, the higher the woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes as an adult,” explained Dr. Rich-Edwards. Approximately 60 percent of the association of child abuse with diabetes was explained by the higher degree of overweight and obesity among women who had experienced abuse as children.
“Interpersonal violence is a prevalent and understudied threat to women’s health,” concluded Dr. Rich-Edwards. “Since child abuse predicts later obesity, and obesity is one of the primary causes of chronic disease, our study demonstrates just one of many potential health risks associated with childhood abuse.” Dr. Rich-Edwards and researchers highlight the need for further investigation of potential associations between abuse of girls and women with health.