Child Maltreatment Associated With Poor Psychological Health Outcomes in Adulthood

sad little boy
sad little boy
These findings suggest that child maltreatment affects physical health in adulthood.

Child maltreatment may be associated with an increased risk of developing psychopathological symptoms and physical health problems in adulthood, according to results from a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Researchers retrospectively analyzed cross-sectional data from the 2007-2008 Norwegian Tromsø Study (N=12,981). A positive response to a single question was used to define child maltreatment exposure. Information on psychopathological symptoms and physical health outcomes (presence of diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) was obtained from a variety of self-reported measures. Survey data were combined, and the outcomes were evaluated using regression modelling.

After statistical adjustments, researchers found that child maltreatment was associated with an increased prevalence of psychiatric problems (relative risk 1.96; 95% CI, 1.69-2.26; P <.001) and a 27% to 82% (P <.05) increased risk for physical health problems occurring later in adulthood. In addition, the investigators reported many associations between child maltreatment and greater levels of insomnia, anxiety and depression, antidepressant use, and likelihood of psychiatrist consult in adult life (P <.05).

Primary study limitations included the cross-sectional design and self-reported nature of health outcomes.

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“In summary, the results of this study showed that [child maltreatment] is associated with an increased risk [for] psychopathological symptoms and onset of diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, and chronic bronchitis/emphysema/COPD in adulthood,” the researchers wrote. “These findings suggest that [child maltreatment] affects physical health, both directly (ie, independent of psychopathological symptoms) and indirectly (via psychopathological symptoms).”

Further studies are needed to fully investigate the possible causal link between child maltreatment, psychopathological symptoms, and physical health problems.


Sheikh MA. Child maltreatment, psychopathological symptoms, and onset of diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and COPD in adulthood. J Affect Disord. 2018;241:80-85.