Background: Child sexual abuse is considered a modifiable risk factor for mental disorders across the life course. However the long-term consequences of other forms of child maltreatment have not yet been systematically examined. The aim of this study was to summarise the evidence relating to the possible relationship between child physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect, and subsequent mental and physical health outcomes.
Methods and findings: A systematic review was conducted using the Medline, EMBASE, and PsycINFO electronic databases up to 26 June 2012. Published cohort, cross-sectional, and case-control studies that examined non-sexual child maltreatment as a risk factor for loss of health were included. All meta-analyses were based on quality-effects models. Out of 285 articles assessed for eligibility, 124 studies satisfied the pre-determined inclusion criteria for meta-analysis. Statistically significant associations were observed between physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect and depressive disorders (physical abuse [odds ratio (OR) = 1.54; 95% CI 1.16-2.04], emotional abuse [OR = 3.06; 95% CI 2.43-3.85], and neglect [OR = 2.11; 95% CI 1.61-2.77]); drug use (physical abuse [OR = 1.92; 95% CI 1.67-2.20], emotional abuse [OR = 1.41; 95% CI 1.11-1.79], and neglect [OR = 1.36; 95% CI 1.21-1.54]); suicide attempts (physical abuse [OR = 3.40; 95% CI 2.17-5.32], emotional abuse [OR = 3.37; 95% CI 2.44-4.67], and neglect [OR = 1.95; 95% CI 1.13-3.37]); and sexually transmitted infections and risky sexual behaviour (physical abuse [OR = 1.78; 95% CI 1.50-2.10], emotional abuse [OR = 1.75; 95% CI 1.49-2.04], and neglect [OR = 1.57; 95% CI 1.39-1.78]). Evidence for causality was assessed using Bradford Hill criteria. While suggestive evidence exists for a relationship between maltreatment and chronic diseases and lifestyle risk factors, more research is required to confirm these relationships.
Conclusions: This overview of the evidence suggests a causal relationship between non-sexual child maltreatment and a range of mental disorders, drug use, suicide attempts, sexually transmitted infections, and risky sexual behaviour. All forms of child maltreatment should be considered important risks to health with a sizeable impact on major contributors to the burden of disease in all parts of the world. The awareness of the serious long-term consequences of child maltreatment should encourage better identification of those at risk and the development of effective interventions to protect children from violence.