Women, But Not Men, Who Were Abused as Children Are at Risk for Early Death

chenA new study led by Edith Chen, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, finds that women who report that they were abused as a child have an increased long-term risk of death as they grow older. The study did not find a similar long-term risk of death for men who were abused as children.

The study included interviews of 6,000 adults with an average age of 47. These adults were followed for the next 20 years, with 17.5 percent of them dying during the 20-year period.

The researchers attempted to explain the association between childhood abuse and premature death in women by suggesting that abuse can heighten vulnerability to psychiatric conditions. In addition, children who experience abuse may develop negative health behaviors, such as drug use, to cope with stress. Dr. Chen said obesity and its consequences could be one pathway between childhood abuse and death, and this might impact more women than men.

“These findings suggest that women who report child abuse continue to be vulnerable to premature mortality and perhaps should receive greater attention in interventions aimed at promoting health,” said Dr. Chen.

Professor Chen is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where she majored in the history of science. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles.

The article, “Association of Reports of Childhood Abuse and All-Cause Mortality Rates in Women,” was published on the website of JAMA Psychiatry. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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