A new SSM – Population Health study from researchers at the University of Maryland reveals that Tanzanian children, whose mothers are intimate partner violence victims, are more likely to have elevated levels of inflammation, an indicator of worsening or developing health conditions.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a critical public health issue impacting women and children. Globally, it is estimated that between 30 and 38 percent of women experienced physical or sexual violence from intimate partners during their lifetime. It’s even higher in Tanzania. Prior studies have documented that maternal experiences of IPV are associated with adverse psychological and physical health outcomes in children; however, research on the underlying physiological pathways linking the two has not been as thoroughly explored.
To look at the connections, researchers examined the association between reports of maternal IPV in the past year and the level of a common measure of inflammation — C-reactive protein (CRP) — in Tanzanian children between 6-months- and 5-years-old. Its a widely used biomarker of inflammation and is associated with future cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in industrialized populations.
The elevated inflammation levels are a marker of increased activation of innate immune function and the stress-response system and could cause cardiovascular, immune and endocrine system diseases, as well as other mental health and other physical health issues.
The timing on when these conditions emerge is “critically important, as it has implications for understanding, and intervening on, the early life origins of disease risk across the life course,” researchers said. The study is the first to report on maternal IPV (as a form of childhood adversity) in relation to inflammation or other biomarkers of immune activation, in either a Western or non-Western context.
Researchers hope to further examine whether maternal IPV is an independent risk factor for elevated inflammation in children due to the psychological trauma of witnessing a mother being abused, or if child maltreatment or maternal depression may be implicated in this association.
The study, “Maternal experiences of intimate partner violence and C-reactive protein levels in young children in Tanzania,” was authored by the University of Maryland School of Public Health department of epidemiology and biostatistics assistant professors, Drs. Natalie Slopen and Jing Zhang; Hunter College National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Samuel S. Urlacher; UMD public health science lecturer, Dr. Gretchen De Silva; and UMD family science assistant professor, Dr. Mona Mittal.