The association between substantiated childhood maltreatment, asthma and lung function: A prospective investigation

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Abajobir, Amanuel Alemu
Kisely, Steve
Williams, Gail
Strathearn, Lane
Suresh, Sadasivam
Najman, Jake Moses
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Background Asthma reflects multiple and likely complex causal pathways. We investigate the possibility that childhood maltreatment is one such causal pathway. Childhood maltreatment can be interpreted as a form of early life adversity and like other life adversities may predict a range of negative health outcomes, including asthma. Methods A total of 3762 young adults (52.63% female) from the Mater Hospital-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy (MUSP) participated in this study. MUSP is a prospective Australian birth cohort study of mothers consecutively recruited during their first antenatal clinic visit at Brisbane's Mater Hospital from 1981 to 1983. The study followed both mother-child dyads to the age of 21 years after birth. Participants reported whether they had been diagnosed by a physician with asthma by the 21-year follow-up. Trained research assistants also performed gender- and height-standardized lung function tests using a Spirobank G spirometer system attached to a laptop computer. We linked this dataset with data obtained from the child protection services and which comprised all substantiated cases of childhood maltreatment in the MUSP cohort. Substantiations of childhood maltreatment included children in an age range of 0–14 years. Results The experience of any childhood maltreatment, particularly emotional abuse, was independently associated with self-reported physician-diagnosed asthma by the 21-year follow-up. The association was no longer significant after adjustment for a range of confounders and covariates in neglected children. Childhood maltreatment, including multiple events, was not associated with lung function in adjusted models. Conclusions Childhood maltreatment, including emotional abuse, was associated with lifetime ever asthma. This was in contrast to the absence of an association with objective measures of lung function. More research is indicated on the effect of childhood maltreatment on lung function using objective measures. In the meantime, there should be a greater awareness of the potential impact of childhood maltreatment on the potential to develop asthma, as well as of the possibility that asthma in adulthood may precede childhood maltreatment.

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Journal of Psychosomatic Research

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Biomedical and clinical sciences


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Substantiated childhood maltreatment


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Abajobir, AA; Kisely, S; Williams, G; Strathearn, L; Suresh, S; Najman, JM, The association between substantiated childhood maltreatment, asthma and lung function: A prospective investigation, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2017, 101, pp. 58-65