Descriptive epidemiology of chronic childhood adversity in Mexican adolescents

J Adolesc Health. 2009 Nov;45(5):483-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.03.002. Epub 2009 Jun 3.


Purpose: To estimate the prevalence of adversity (neglect and abuse, parental loss, parental psychopathology, economic adversity, and serious physical illness), the interrelatedness of adversities, and their socio-demographic correlates.

Methods: This is a multistage probability survey of 3005 adolescents aged 12-17 years residing in Mexico City. Youth were administered the computer-assisted adolescent version of the World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview in their homes. The childhood and posttraumatic stress disorder sections provided information regarding adversity. Descriptive and logistic regression analyses were performed considering the multistage and weighted sample design.

Results: A total of 68% of adolescents have experienced at least one type of chronic childhood adversity, whereas almost 7% have experienced four of more. The most frequent adversity is economic adversity followed by witnessing domestic violence. Boys experience more neglect than girls, and girls experience more sexual abuse than boys. Family dysfunction adversities tend to clump together such that youth exposed to abuse of any form also report witnessing domestic violence and parental mental pathology. Youth whose parents have divorced are likely to experience economic adversity. Parental death is independent of experiencing other childhood adversities. Older adolescents, school drop-outs, those with young mothers, those with more siblings, and those whose parents have less education are more likely to experience adversity.

Conclusions: Although most adolescents have experienced some adversity, a small group is exposed to many adversities. Understanding the distribution of adversities may help us to identify at-risk youth and to better interpret the findings from studies on the role of adversity in diverse health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Mexico / epidemiology
  • Poverty / psychology
  • Urban Population