February 23, 2011

Sick and Abused

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Chronically ill children more likely to be abused, witness domestic violence

(dailyRx News) According to a study by Swedish researchers, children who are chronically ill are much more likely than healthy children to be victims of physical abuse.

Birgitta Svensson, from the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences at Karlstad University, studied questionnaires filled out anonymously by 10, 12, and 15-year-old children. Of 2,510 children, 39 percent reported having chronic health problems including: hearing, visual, and speech problems; diabetes; mental illness; physical disabilities; allergies; weight problems; epilepsy; and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The researchers found that children with a chronic health condition not only faced a greater risk of physical abuse, but also that rates of abuse increased among children with more than one chronic health problem. About 10 percent of children with one chronic condition were abused, compared to 16 percent of children with three or more chronic health conditions.

In addition to facing an increased risk of physical abuse, chronically ill children are also more likely to witness intimate partner violence (domestic violence between their parents or other couples). Compared with just to two percent of healthy children, five percent of children with chronic health conditions had been victims of physical abuse and witnessed intimate partner violence.

Furthermore, children with chronic health problems faced an even greater risk of physical abuse if they were also poor and born outside of Sweden (the country from which data was taken).

According to Svensson, the discovery of the relationship between chronic illness and the risk of physical abuse is likely to help those who work with children. Further research will examine how families deal with these conflicts, in addition to what kind of support the families receive and require.

In a different recent study, researchers found that deaf and hard-of-hearing children also face a greater risk of physicial abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect.

In the United States, an estimated 5.8 million children were involved in approximately 3.2 million child abuse reports and allegations in 2007. Nearly five children die each day because of child abuse. Over 75 percent of these deaths are of children under the age of 4.

The Swedish study will appear in the March issue of Acta Paediatrica.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
February 18, 2011

Last Updated:
February 23, 2011