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Childhood Abuse Linked to Diabetes Risk in Adult Women

Stress of physical, sexual abuse may lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, study suggests….

Women who were victims of childhood abuse may be at increased risk of developing diabetes in adulthood, new findings suggest. 

Researchers surveyed 67,853 U.S. nurses and found that 54 percent reported physical abuse and 34 percent reported sexual abuse before age 18. Moderate and severe physical and sexual abuse were associated with a 26 percent to 69 percent increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in adulthood. 

Lead author Janet Rich-Edwards, director of developmental epidemiology at Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said, “Much, although not all, of this association is explained by the greater weight gain of girls with a history of abuse. The weight gain seems to start in teenage years and continues into adulthood, increasing the risk of diabetes.” 

But she added that weight gain explained only 60 percent of the association, “implying that the experience of abuse gets incorporated into the body through other mechanisms, as well.” 

Further research is needed to understand the link between childhood abuse and diabetes, the study author added. 

“One theory is that abused women develop disordered eating habits as a compensatory stress behavior, leading to excess weight gain,” Rich-Edwards said. “Another theory suggests that child abuse may increase levels of stress hormones that later cause weight gain and insulin resistance, characteristic of diabetes.” 

Rich-Edwards stated that, “Child abuse can leave an enduring imprint on health in adulthood.” “We hope to alert clinicians to the possible role of abuse in the histories of some patients that they see with pre-diabetes and diabetes. We also need to help families prevent child abuse, and we need to learn the best ways to reduce the long-term health burden that it imposes.”

The study appears online and in the December 2010 print issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.