Abused children and sick adults
The Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE study) was the first population study on associations between negative childhood experiences and disease in adult life (28). The following issues in childhood were investigated: various types of abuse (sexual and other psychological and physical types of abuse) and neglect (physical or emotional) and the following conditions in the family where they grew up: not growing up with both biological parents; seeing the mother being mistreated; living with an adult who abuses substances such as alcohol or narcotics, who has a mental disorder, is suicidal, has been convicted of some crime or been imprisoned. The study shows clear dose-response relationships between experience and disease (9, 29), including cardiovascular disease (8).
The dose-response relationship between various negative experiences during childhood and serious disease, chronic pain, physical disability and abuse of health services in adult life is later confirmed in a number of studies (5) – (9, 11, 17), as well as in population studies from Finland (12), England (16) and Canada (30). This especially concerns risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including obesity and metabolic syndrome (31) – (33).
Women who have experienced various types of abuse as adults are statistically likely to have experienced abuse already as children and/or adolescents (34) – (39), and they typically have many health problems (34, 40) – (42). Among women who are abused and mistreated there is a considerable risk for other problems in addition to health problems; i.e. lack of schooling and education, homelessness, poverty and reduced working ability (34, 39, 43) – (45). Trauma experience both as children and adults predicted the lowest income among women in an American study (46). Low income is associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease (15, 47) and early menopause (48). Early menopause should with other words not merely be regarded as a biological phenomenon, it is also an existentially conditioned phenomenon, possibly related to cardiovascular disease in a mutual risk relationship (49).
The ACE study showed that having been a witness to violence against ones mother while growing up is related to a doubling or quadrupling of risk of also having experienced other unfortunate conditions that were assessed (50). Consequently, children in families where women are beaten are regarded to be at risk – the risk of later health problems is significantly higher for them than for children who have not witnessed violence against their mother (51).