The physical health consequences of childhood psychosocial adversities may be as substantial as the mental health consequences but whether this is the case remains unclear because much prior research has involved unrepresentative samples and a selective focus on particular adversities or physical outcomes. The association between early onset mental disorders and subsequent poor physical health in adulthood has not been investigated.
To investigate whether childhood adversities and early onset mental disorders are independently associated with increased risk of a range of adult onset chronic physical conditions in culturally diverse samples spanning the full adult age range.
Cross-sectional community surveys of adults in ten countries.
Adults (>= 18 years; n = 18,303), with diagnostic assessment and determination of age of onset of DSM-IV mental disorders; assessment of childhood familial adversities; and age of diagnosis/onset of chronic physical conditions.
Main Outcome Measures
Risk (hazard ratios) of adult onset (> age 20) heart disease, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, chronic spinal pain, and chronic headache as a function of specific childhood adversities and early onset (< age 21) DSM-IV depressive and anxiety disorders, with mutual adjustment.
A history of three or more childhood adversities was independently associated with onset of all six physical conditions (hazard ratios from 1.44–2.19). Controlling for current mental disorder made little difference to these associations. Early onset mental disorders were independently associated with onset of five physical conditions (hazard ratios from 1.43–1.66).
These results are consistent with the hypothesis that childhood adversities and early onset mental disorders have independent, broad spectrum effects that increase risks of diverse chronic physical conditions in later life. They require confirmation in a prospective design. The long time course of these associations has theoretical and research implications.