Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CDC: Almost 60% of Americans say they suffered physical or emotional abuse in their childhoods

From Reuters:

CHICAGO -- Almost 60 percent of Americans surveyed say they suffered at least one form of physical or emotional abuse or other adversity in their childhoods, raising the risk of later health problems and early death, U.S. government researchers said on Dec. 16.

The report by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and community health departments is the first to count how common such events are, and it raises concerns about the need for more mental health services for young people.

Substance abuse was the most common childhood adversity, with 29 percent of those surveyed saying they lived with a problem drinker, alcoholic, or someone who abused street or prescription drugs.

Nearly 26 percent of those surveyed said they were verbally abused and just under 15 percent said they had been physically abused -- defined as having been beaten or hit, but spanking was excluded.

In each category, adults over 55 were far less likely than younger people to say they experienced one of these problems.

For example, while 16.9 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 said they had been physically abused, only 9.6 of those 55 and older said they had been.

The researchers surveyed 26,229 people by telephone in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tennessee and Washington.

They found more than 59 percent of adults said they experienced one or more traumatic events in their childhood and 8.7 percent reported having lived through five or more.

While sexual abuse, family mental illness and family substance abuse were more commonly reported by women, they were common among all racial and ethnic groups surveyed.

The study, published in the CDC's weekly report on death and disease, included answers to 11 questions about childhood experiences, including verbal, physical and sexual abuse, incarceration of a family member, family mental illness, family substance abuse, domestic violence and divorce.

With some of the categories, the researchers looked to see how commonly something occurred. For example, for a person to be considered verbally abused, they had to answer "more than once" to the question, "How often did a parent or adult in your home ever swear at you, insult you, or put you down?"

With sexual assault, a person need only have answered once to a question such as: "How often did anyone at least 5 years older than you or an adult, force you to have sex?"

Only 7.2 percent of people said they grew up in a household in which one person was in prison.

Among the study's other findings:

* 12.2 percent said they had been sexually abused.

* 26.6 percent said their parents had been separated or divorced

* 19.4 percent said they had lived with someone who was depressed, mentally ill or suicidal

* 16.3 percent said they witnessed domestic violence.

There were a few problems with the study, which was not representative of the whole U.S. population and excluded cell phone users. The response rate was a bit low, too, with only 48 to 60 percent of people responding. Also, 6 percent of people who had started the survey hung up before they finished and 4.2 percent refused to answer at least one question.

Even so, the CDC said the findings underscore the need for child abuse prevention programs, such as home visitations and parenting programs, that reduce cases of emotional and physical abuse in childhood.