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Childhood Physical Abuse and Midlife Physical Health: Testing a Multi-Pathway Life Course Model

Kristen W. Springer

Social Science & Medicine
Although prior research has established that childhood abuse adversely affects midlife physical health, it is unclear how abuse continues to harm health decades after the abuse has ended. In this project, I assess four life course pathways (health behaviors, cognition, mental health, and social relation) that plausibly link childhood physical abuse to three midlife physical health outcomes (bronchitis diagnosis, ulcer diagnosis, and general physical health). These three outcomes are etiologically distinct, leading to unique testable hypotheses. Multivariate models controlling for childhood background and early adversity were estimated using data from over 3000 respondents in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, USA. The results indicate that midlife social relations and cognition do not function as pathways for any outcome. However, smoking is a crucial pathway connecting childhood abuse with bronchitis; mental health is important for ulcers; and BMI, smoking, and mental health are paramount for general physical health. These findings suggest that abuse survivorsí coping mechanisms can lead to an array of midlife health problems. Furthermore, the results validate the use of etiologically distinct outcomes for understanding plausible causal pathways when using cross-sectional data. The complete article is available here.

Kristen W. Springer. "Childhood Physical Abuse and Midlife Physical Health: Testing a Multi-Pathway Life Course Model." Social Science and Medicine, Volume 69: 138-146, 2009.