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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Childhood maltreatment predicts allostatic load in adulthood

Cathy Spatz Widom, Jacqueline Horan, Linda Brzustowicz
Child Abuse & Neglect 2015, 47: 59-69
25700779
Childhood maltreatment has been linked to numerous negative health outcomes. However, few studies have examined mediating processes using longitudinal designs or objectively measured biological data. This study sought to determine whether child abuse and neglect predicts allostatic load (a composite indicator of accumulated stress-induced biological risk) and to examine potential mediators. Using a prospective cohort design, children (ages 0-11) with documented cases of abuse and neglect were matched with non-maltreated children and followed up into adulthood with in-person interviews and a medical status exam (mean age 41). Allostatic load was assessed with nine physical health indicators. Child abuse and neglect predicted allostatic load, controlling for age, sex, and race. The direct effect of child abuse and neglect persisted despite the introduction of potential mediators of internalizing and externalizing problems in adolescence and social support and risky lifestyle in middle adulthood. These findings reveal the long-term impact of childhood abuse and neglect on physical health over 30 years later.

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