Phaedra Corso, associate professor, UGA College of Public Health and her colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took into account surveys of more than 6,000 people to assess the deficits in quality of life that victims suffer.
"We found, with rigorous statistical methods, that there are significant differences in health-related quality of life between people who were maltreated as children and those who were not. And that holds across all age groups," Corso said.
Childhood maltreatment includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect and it has been linked to an increased risk for ailments ranging from heart disease, obesity and diabetes to depression and anxiety.
According to Corso, this may be because of two reasons. Firstly, childhood maltreatment triggers unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, substance abuse and sexual promiscuity. According to recent studies repeated exposure to the stress caused by maltreatment alters brain circuits and hormonal systems, which puts victims at greater risk of chronic health problems.
The results indicated that 46 percent of respondents reported some form of maltreatment during childhood. Of those, 26 percent reported physical abuse; 21 percent reported sexual abuse; 10 percent reported emotional abuse; 14 percent reported emotional neglect; and nine percent reported physical neglect.
In order to examine reductions in quality of life, the team matched responses to a survey that assessed physical functioning, pain, cognitive functioning and social support with data from surveys that explicitly asked people how many years of life they would trade to be free of a given health condition.
The result is a score that ranges from 0 to 1, with 0 being equivalent to death and 1 being perfect health. The average score for people who weren't maltreated was .78, while the score for those were was .75 - a difference of .03 per year. Throughout a lifetime, this figure translates to a loss of two years of quality-adjusted life expectancy.
"Every year gets diminished in some respect, because the person who was maltreated has a lower quality of life than the person who wasn't," Corso said.
"The long-term consequences of child maltreatment are very real and concerning. All children should have safe, stable and nurturing environments in which to grow and develop. For children and adults to live to their full potential, we must support programs that stop child maltreatment before it ever begins and work to help those who have already experienced it," said Ileana Arias, director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Corso said that their study highlights the long-term damage associated with child maltreatment and, by helping to quantify its costs, helps make the case for funding prevention efforts.
"A lot of the time people don't consider violence as a public health issue, but there's a body of evidence that exists now that shows long-term health impacts of childhood maltreatment," she said.
Their results appear in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.