Media Releases

UofT researchers find link between childhood physical abuse and heart disease

July 22, 2010

TORONTO, ON – Child­hood phys­i­cal abuse is asso­ci­at­ed with sig­nif­i­cant­ly ele­vat­ed rates of heart dis­ease in adult­hood, accord­ing to new find­ings by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers, pub­lished in this month’s issue of the jour­nal Child Abuse & Neglect.

“Indi­vid­u­als who report­ed they had been phys­i­cal­ly abused as chil­dren had 45 per cent high­er odds of heart dis­ease than their peers who had not been abused, despite the fact we had adjust­ed for most of the known risk fac­tors for heart dis­ease,” says Pro­fes­sor Esme Fuller-Thom­son, who holds the San­dra Rot­man Chair at U of T’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work and Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly and Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine. 

The child­hood abuse and heart dis­ease link per­sist­ed even after con­trol­ling for health behav­iours such as smok­ing, obe­si­ty and phys­i­cal activ­i­ty lev­el, as well as oth­er adverse child­hood expe­ri­ences such as parental addic­tions, adult income and edu­ca­tion lev­el, dia­betes, self-report­ed stress and a his­to­ry of high blood pres­sure and mood dis­or­ders. 

These find­ings were based on data from a 2005 rep­re­sen­ta­tive com­mu­ni­ty sur­vey con­duct­ed in two Cana­di­an provinces. Of 13,000 respon­dents, sev­en per cent indi­cat­ed they had been phys­i­cal­ly abused as chil­dren and four per cent report­ed they had been diag­nosed with heart dis­ease by a health pro­fes­sion­al. 

Co-author John Frank, direc­tor of Scot­tish Col­lab­o­ra­tion for Pub­lic Health Research and Pol­i­cy, notes, “This find­ing, if repli­cat­ed in oth­er stud­ies, sug­gests that patients known to have expe­ri­enced child abuse or neglect should have their car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk fac­tors man­aged some­what more aggres­sive­ly than oth­er per­sons, since they are at greater risk.”

Frank believes that future research is need­ed to study the poten­tial mech­a­nisms through which child­hood phys­i­cal abuse is asso­ci­at­ed with heart dis­ease. “Like many pre­vi­ous stud­ies link­ing ear­ly life char­ac­ter­is­tics and expe­ri­ences with late life seri­ous dis­ease, this study does not explain pre­cise­ly how such links oper­ate, bio­log­i­cal­ly; fur­ther research will be required to under­stand that process.”


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Media Rela­tions
Joy­ann Cal­len­der