Child maltreatment and household dysfunction: associations with pubertal development in a British birth cohort

Int J Epidemiol. 2014 Aug;43(4):1163-73. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyu071. Epub 2014 Apr 4.


Background: We aimed to establish the association between adverse childhood experiences (maltreatment and household dysfunction) and pubertal maturation, which is associated with later health outcome(s).

Methods: The 1958 British birth cohort (n = 17 638) includes all born in one week, March 1958, followed up to mid adulthood. Pubertal stage was rated by medical personnel at 11 and 16 years of age (y). Childhood maltreatment (neglect or abuse) and household dysfunction scores were constructed from information ascertained in childhood and at 45 y.

Results: Childhood neglect, assessed at 7 y, was associated with late pubertal development on several markers after adjusting for early life circumstances: relative risk ratio (RRRadjusted) was 1.13 (95% CI: 1.06,1.21) and 1.06 (1.00,1.12) for late menarche and breast development (females) per unit increase in neglect score ranging 0-7, respectively; 1.14 (1.08,1.20) for late voice change and 1.07 (1.02,1.13) for pubic hair growth (males). The RRRadjusted for late pubic hair (females) and genitalia and facial hair (males) development was 1.04 (P = 0.052 to 0.085). Abuse score (0-3, for physical, sexual or psychological abuse) was associated in females with late menarche [RRRadjusted = 1.17 (1.01,1.36)] and in males with late pubic hair growth [RRRadjusted = 1.16 (1.01,1.34)] per unit increase, but not with other pubertal markers. Neither score (neglect or abuse) was associated with early puberty, but sexual abuse was associated with early [RRRadjusted = 1.86 (1.06,3.29)] as well as late menarche [RRRadjusted = 1.66 (1.02,2.71)] and witnessing abuse with early genitalia development [RRRadjusted = 1.57 (1.02,2.41)]. Household dysfunction score was not associated consistently with pubertal markers.

Conclusions: Cumulative neglect by 7 y was associated with delayed development of several pubertal markers. The underlying role of pubertal development in linking childhood neglect with future adult health warrants further consideration.

Keywords: Britain; child abuse; child adversity; child maltreatment; child neglect; cohort study; household dysfunction; menarche; pubertal development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Cohort Studies
  • Family Characteristics
  • Family Conflict*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menarche
  • Middle Aged
  • Puberty*
  • Puberty, Delayed / epidemiology*
  • Puberty, Precocious / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology