Middle-aged women who been physically abused as children are significantly more likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes compared to other women, according to a new study.
Researchers found that women who suffered child abuse were two times more likely to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a larger waistline and poor cholesterol levels, suggesting that physical abuse is a unique factor when predicting women's cardiovascular health.
A new study, published online in Health Psychology, is the first to link childhood physical abuse to the development of metabolic syndrome in middle-aged women.
"Our research shows us that childhood abuse can have long-lasting consequences, even decades later, on women's health and is related to more health problems down the road," co-researcher Aimee Midei from the University of Pittsburgh, said in a statement.
The study included 342 women between the ages of 42 and 52 from the Pittsburgh area. Each woman completed a childhood trauma survey that measured childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and the women's waist circumference, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and fasting glucose levels were measured annually during the seven-year period of the study.
Out of all the women surveyed, approximately 34 percent of the participants had reported experiencing some type of childhood abuse, and researchers found that physical abuse was significantly associated with metabolic syndrome, even after researchers accounted for ethnicity, age, menopause and other traditional risk factors.
However, researcher found no evidence to link sexual or emotional abuse to metabolic syndrome in middle-aged women.
Researchers found that out of all the individual components of metabolic syndrome, physical abuse was particularly associated with larger waist circumference and fasting glucose, both of which are strong predictors of type 2 diabetes.
"It's possible that women with histories of physical abuse engage in unhealthy eating behaviors or have poor stress regulation," said Midei. "It appears that psychology plays a role in physical health even when we're talking about traumatic incidents that happened when these women were children."