Asthma -- Hidden Effects of Child Abuse?

  • In my opinion (which is certainly not unique), no child ever deserves to be abused, whether it's verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically. And, honestly, as a mother, I just can't fathom how anyone could ever hurt a child, particularly to the depths that some abusers go to.


    The horrors and after effects of child abuse have been well documented over the past few decades. There is no question that violence directed at a child is nothing but harmful, in so many ways. And violence breeds violence, as victims of abuse often go on to become abusers themselves. It can be a vicious circle, one that our society needs to make greater efforts to break.

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    But now, new research shows that victims of child abuse may also carry double the risk of developing asthma, compared to non-abused kids. In fact, violence and abuse were second as risk factors only to the mother having asthma. Even socioeconomic status was not as high a risk factor for asthma.


    This research comes out of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard, and was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Here are the highlights of the study:

    • Participants were 1,213 children (average age 11 to 12 years old) in Puerto Rico, an important study group because, among ethnic minorities, Puerto Ricans have a much greater death rate from asthma and have asthma longer
    • Primary caregivers were also included
    • 89.7% of the children / caregivers were re-interviewed 2 years later
    • 45% of kids reported 2 or more stressful events in the prior year, 14% in their neighborhood, 7% victims of neighborhood violence and more than 6% victims of domestic abuse
    • Almost 40% had asthma and nearly 27% had nasal allergies
    • Researchers found no connection with asthma risk and gender, age, or parental history of asthma, though they acknowledged the study was not really designed to measure any of those carefully

    This is the first study that has looked at a direct connection between child abuse and asthma, though previous studies have looked at stress and violence as a risk factor. So, its results are important to consider.


    There are some clear limits to this study, however. Data was dependent on self-reporting and researchers didn't adequately explore whether the asthma occurred first or if the abuse and violence did. Nor did they examine whether the strong family support inherent in Puerto Rican culture may have protected against the stress of neighborhood violence, but not against the abuse that is carried out within a family.


    Still, if this study engenders more dollars to be spent on fighting child abuse, that's a good thing in my eyes.

Published On: September 24, 2008