The association between child maltreatment and health risk behaviours and conditions throughout life in the Australian Child Maltreatment Study


Objective:

To estimate associations between all five types of child maltreatment (emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and exposure to domestic violence) and health risk behaviours and conditions.


Design, setting, participants:

Nationally representative survey of Australian residents aged 16 years and older conducted by computer-assisted telephone interviewing.


Main outcome measures:

Associations between child maltreatment and the following health risk behaviours and conditions: current smoker, binge drinking (at least weekly in past 12 months), cannabis dependence (according to the Cannabis Severity of Dependence Scale), obesity (based on body mass index), self-harm in past 12 months, and suicide attempt in past 12 months.


Results:

A total of 8503 participants completed the survey. All five types of child maltreatment were associated with increased rates of all of the health risk behaviours and conditions that we considered. The strongest associations were in the youngest age group (16-24-year-olds). Sexual abuse and emotional abuse were associated with the highest odds of health risk behaviours and conditions. Cannabis dependence, self-harm and suicide attempts were most strongly associated with child maltreatment. Experiencing more than one type of child maltreatment was associated with higher rates of health risk behaviours and conditions than experiencing one type of child maltreatment.


Conclusions:

Child maltreatment is associated with substantially increased rates of health risk behaviours and conditions. Prevention and intervention efforts should be informed by trauma histories, and holistic psychosocial care should be incorporated into programs focusing on behaviour change.


Keywords:

Child abuse; Child welfare; Health status indicators; Healthcare disparities.

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