Effects of child abuse persist into adulthood

September 27, 2006

Society cannot afford the consequences of child abuse and neglect, said Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, MD, of Wasilla, Alaska, and adults who were abused as children are more likely to suffer from disorders such as obesity and depression. Three million reports of child abuse are filed each year, about 1 million of which are substantiated. One in every 3 to 5 girls and 1 in every 5 to 10 boys experience abuse before age 18.

Society cannot afford the consequences of child abuse and neglect, said Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, MD, of Wasilla, Alaska, and adults who were abused as children are more likely to suffer from disorders such as obesity and depression. Three million reports of child abuse are filed each year, about 1 million of which are substantiated. One in every 3 to 5 girls and 1 in every 5 to 10 boys experience abuse before age 18.

A relationship has also been found between child abuse and undesirable outcomes including teen pregnancy and substance abuse, she said, citing a collaborative study by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente.

Dr Baldwin-Johnson pointed out that the financial burden of child abuse on the health care system is prohibitive and avoidable. Services for abused and neglected children cost the United States nearly $95 billion in hospital fees, law enforcement, and psychiatric visits. That figure doesn't include the cost of treating adults who suffer from the negative effects of child abuse later in life.

She urged family physicians to consider child abuse in their differential diagnoses of adults and watch for the warning signs of abuse in children. Parenting tips given to first- and second-time parents can go a long way, and home visitation programs like Nurse Family Partnership, Healthy Start, and Head Start have helped families in her home state of Alaska.