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Researchers examined nearly 350 black and white women in the Pittsburgh area who were between 42 to 52 years old at the start of the study. About 34 percent of the women said they had been victims of some form of childhood abuse.
Compared to other women in the study, which was published online in the journal Health Psychology, those with a history of childhood physical abuse were about twice as likely to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a larger waistline and poor cholesterol levels.
Collectively, these health issues are known as metabolic syndrome. Previous research suggests that people with metabolic syndrome are at increased risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The link between childhood physical abuse and metabolic syndrome was separate from traditional risk factors for the syndrome, such as smoking, lack of physical activity, menopause, alcohol use and depression. This persistent association suggests that abuse plays a unique role in women's cardiovascular health, the researchers said.
"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," study co-author Aimee Midei, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a journal news release.
"It's possible that women with histories of physical abuse engage in unhealthy eating behaviors or have poor stress regulation," Midei said. "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."
Although the study found an association between childhood physical abuse and an increased occurrence of metabolic syndrome later in life, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. The study also found no association between childhood sexual and emotional abuse and metabolic syndrome.
-- Robert Preidt
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