Child Abuse Linked to Increased Risk for Type 2 Diabetes in Adults

Women who experience physical or sexual abuse as children or adolescents are at significantly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a large, longitudinal cohort study suggests. Furthermore, investigators found there is a relationship such that the more severe the abuse, the greater the risk.

The latest findings from the Nurses Health Study II show moderate or severe physical abuse was associated with a 26% to 54% higher risk for diabetes in adulthood. Unwanted sexual touching was associated with a 16% higher risk for the disease. Forced sexual activity before adulthood carried a 34% increased risk if it occurred once and but carried a 69% greater risk if it occurred more frequently.

“Although there was no evidence of a multiplicative, synergistic impact of experiencing both physical and sexual abuse, women who experienced both types of abuse had higher absolute risks of diabetes than expected from physical or sexual abuse alone.

“Girls who experience both types of abuse may suffer more severe abuse, more emotionally damaging abuse, or more chronic abuse than girls who experienced abuse of one type,” the researchers, led by Janet Rich-Edwards, ScD, director of developmental epidemiology at the Conners Center for Women’s Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, write.

The study was published online November 9 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The researchers note that there has been a consistently reported link between child abuse and adult obesity and evidence indicating that child abuse leads to overweight.

The study authors add that because obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, it may be that early abuse may lead to the disease via this pathway. They also note that experimental and observational research suggests that “early trauma may cause lasting dysregulated stress responsivity, which may link child abuse with diabetes through physiologic pathways independent of adiposity.”