People who suffer maltreatment in childhood have a higher chance of multiple health conditions later in life, according to new research. Scientists used UK Biobank data from more than 157,000 participants to examine the link between four forms of childhood maltreatment – physical, sexual, emotional and neglect – and the presence of multiple health conditions, known as multimorbidity, later in adult life.
The research, led by scientists at the University of Glasgow, found those who had experienced all four types of maltreatment were five times as likely to have four or more long-term health conditions as people who reported experiencing no childhood maltreatment.
When compared with people with no experience of childhood maltreatment, participants experiencing all four types of maltreatment were more likely to be socially isolated, and more than three times as likely to report poor self-rated health, loneliness, frailty and chronic widespread pain.
Experiencing a greater number of types of childhood maltreatment was also associated with a higher prevalence of mental health conditions. Professor Frances Mair, Norie Miller Professor of General Practice at the University of Glasgow, who led the study, said: “Our findings are in keeping with the growing body of research looking at the impact of childhood adversity on future health and social outcomes.
“Our work, alongside other studies, suggests that childhood maltreatment can have consequences in later life, including the development of multimorbidity in adulthood.
“Our findings suggest people experiencing childhood maltreatment are not only at risk of higher numbers of long-term health conditions in adulthood, but they are also experiencing factors that will complicate self-management and practitioner work – such as mental health problems and isolation – with implications for the resources needed to manage these patients well.”
The study also found that experience of only one type of childhood maltreatment was associated with long-term health conditions, including long-term pain and frailty.
While experiencing multiple types of childhood maltreatment was rare, researchers found that, overall, child maltreatment affects a relatively high proportion of people, with a third of the participants included in the study reporting at least one form of maltreatment.
Dr Marianne McCallum, joint lead author of the study, said: “Investing in prevention and support of early childhood adversity could result in improved health outcomes in the future.
“Our results add to the evidence that efforts to mitigate the impact of childhood adversity should be seen as public health measures.”
The research is published in the Journal of Comorbidity. The work was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), The Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office and NHS Research Scotland.