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Health Psychol. 2013 Feb;32(2):121-7. doi: 10.1037/a0027891. Epub 2012 Jul 9.

Childhood physical abuse is associated with incident metabolic syndrome in mid-life women.

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Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.



Previous research has suggested that childhood emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse are associated with an increased risk for ischemic heart disease. Our objective was to examine whether childhood abuse predicted incident metabolic syndrome, a precursor to heart disease, in midlife women.


Participants were 342 (114 Black, 228 White) women from the Pittsburgh site of the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN). SWAN included a baseline assessment of premenopausal or early perimenopausal women in midlife (mean age = 45.7), and women were evaluated for presence of the metabolic syndrome over 7 annual follow-up visits. Women were classified as having metabolic syndrome if they met 3 of the following criteria: waist circumference >88 cm, triglycerides ≥150 mg/dl, HDL <50 mg/dl, SBP ≥130 or DBP ≥85 mmHg or on blood pressure medication, and fasting glucose ≥110 mg/dl or diabetic. The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire is a standardized measure that retrospectively assesses 3 domains of abuse in childhood and adolescence: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.


Approximately 34% of the participants reported a history of abuse. Cox model survival analysis showed that physical abuse was associated with incident metabolic syndrome over the course of 7 years (HR = 2.12, p = .02), adjusted for ethnicity, age at baseline, and time-dependent menopausal status. Sexual abuse and emotional abuse were unrelated to the metabolic syndrome.


This is the first study to show that a history of childhood abuse, specifically physical abuse, is related to the development of metabolic syndrome in midlife women.

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