The disease burden of childhood adversities in adults: a population-based study

Child Abuse Negl. 2011 Nov;35(11):937-45. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2011.06.005. Epub 2011 Nov 17.


Objectives: There is much evidence showing that childhood adversities have considerable effects on the mental and physical health of adults. It could be assumed therefore, that the disease burden of childhood adversities is high. It has not yet been examined, however, whether this is true.

Method: We used data of a large representative sample (N=7,076) of the general population in the Netherlands. We calculated the disability weight (DW) for each respondent. The DW is a weight factor that reflects the severity of a disease or condition on a scale from 0 (perfect health) to 1 (equivalent to death). We used an algorithm based on the SF-6D to estimate DW. Because the DW indicates the proportion of a healthy life year that is reduced by the specific health state of the individual, it also possible to calculate the total number of years lost due to disability (YLD) in the population. We calculated the years lived with disability (YLD) for 9 different childhood adversities (in the areas of parental psychopathology; abuse and neglect; major life events), as well as for major categories of mental disorders and general medical disorders.

Results: All 9 adversities resulted in a significantly increased DW, except death of a parent before the age of 16. Adversities in the category of abuse and neglect are associated with the highest DWs (0.057), followed by parental psychopathology (0.031) and life events during childhood (0.012). All adversities (46.4% of the population reports one or more adversity) are associated with 20.7 YLD/1,000, which is more than all mental disorders together (12.9 YLD/1,000). The category of abuse/neglect has the highest YLD/1,000 (15.8), which is also higher than all mental disorders together. Adjustment for the presence of mental and general medical disorders resulted in comparable outcomes.

Conclusions: Childhood adversities are more important from a public health point of view than all common mental disorders together, and should be a priority for public health interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years*
  • Severity of Illness Index