Women abused as kids at increased risk of developing diabetes: Study

The latest research shows that women who were victims of childhood abuse may be at increased risk of developing diabetes in adulthood. For the study the scientist team looked at 67,853 U.S. nurses in the Nurses Health Study II and found that 54 percent reported physical abuse and 34 percent reported sexual abuse before age 18. Moderate and severe physical and sexual abuse was associated with a 26 percent to 69 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Established in 1989, the cohort of nurses has been followed by biennial mailed questionnaires asking about risk factors and disease incidence. In 2001 a Violence Questionnaire was sent to 91,297 study participants and 67,853 individuals responded. The investigators then examined reported lifetime abuse in 2001 and corresponding risk for diabetes from 1989 through 2005.

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.” She also explained that the weight gain could explain only 60 percent of the association, “implying that the experience of abuse gets incorporated into the body through other mechanisms, as well.” “One theory is that abused women develop disordered eating habits as a compensatory stress behaviour, leading to excess weight gain… Another theory suggests that child abuse may increase levels of stress hormones that later cause weight gain and insulin resistance, characteristic of diabetes.”

She said further research could clarify the link. The study is published online and in the December print issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

According to Rich-Edwards this study highlights the importance of child abuse. She said, “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.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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