APR 28, 2022 3:15 PM PDT

Childhood Abuse Increases Risk for High Cholesterol and Diabetes

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Men and women who experience abuse during childhood are more likely to develop high cholesterol and diabetes as adults. The corresponding study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Previous studies have suggested that physical and psychological abuse, alongside other adverse experiences in childhood, increase a person’s risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, which in turn increase heart disease risk. 

On the other hand, some studies suggest that nurturing, loving relationships in a well-managed household have the opposite effect and may increase ‘heart-healthy’ behaviors that decrease cardiovascular risk later on. In the present study, researchers investigated whether nurturing relationships in well-managed households early in life may offset cardiovascular risk factors. 

To do so, they analyzed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study, an ongoing, long-term study of 5,115 black and white adults. At the start of the study, participants were an average of 25 years old. All participants received clinical examinations at the beginning and follow-ups every few years over 30 years. 

Between the ages of 33 and 45, participants were asked to fill in a survey detailing their family life during childhood. Topics included questions on abuse, such as being physically injured or being made to feel unsafe from insults and threats. 

Topics also included questions on nurturing ie. how often they felt loved and cared for, and questions on household organization ie. whether ir not they felt their household was well-managed and if their family knew where they were and what they were doing most of the time.

 All in all, around 30% of participants reported occasional or frequent abuse, 20% reported abuse some or little of the time, and half of the participants reported no abuse and a generally nurturing and well-managed upbringing. 

The researchers then found that those who reported abuse during childhood tended to have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol- but not obesity or blood pressure compared to adults who did not undergo abuse. The increase in risk, however, varied according to gender and race. 

They found that white women and white men who reported low levels of abuse had a 26% and 35% higher risk of high cholesterol than those who reported no abuse. They further found that white men had an 81% higher risk for type 2 diabetes than adults who were not abused during childhood. 

Meanwhile, black men and white women who experienced abuse in childhood were 3.5 times more likely to develop high cholesterol than those who were not abused. 

The researchers note that their findings have several limitations. Firstly, their findings are based on retrospective data, and only one survey examining upbringing. The researchers say that as the survey results rely on memories, they may not be the most accurate. They add that they also did not have BMI data for the participants during childhood. 

"Further research is needed to better understand the potential mechanisms linking childhood abuse and family environment to higher heart disease risk factors, as well as the impact of structural racism and social determinants of health, which likely influenced the differences we found by race and sex," said lead author of the study, Liliana Aguayo, Ph.D., M.P.H., social epidemiologist and research assistant professor at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta.

"This information is critical to strengthening cardiovascular disease prevention interventions and policies, particularly those that focus on people who experienced abuse or other trauma during childhood," she concluded. 

 

Sources: Science DailyJournal of the American Heart Association

 

About the Author
University College London
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
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