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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Pittsburgh Finds Child Abuse, Adversity Associated With Poor Health and Employment Outcomes

People who currently fall into low-income and educational brackets are up to five times as likely to have faced abuse and adversity during childhood as people who fall into higher socioeconomic groups, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis of Allegheny County residents.

[Photo: Dr. Todd M. Bear]

The findings, which were recently presented at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting, support the merit of “whole family” programs that seek to break the cycle of adversity and negative health, economic, and social outcomes that persist over generations.

Eliminating childhood abuse and adversity significantly improves health – reducing heart disease by more than 26 percent and serious mental illness by more than 41 percent, the research team determined in a separate study.

“Early childhood is a sensitive period of human development when abuse or parental problems can create lasting negative consequences later in life,” said lead investigator Dr. Todd M. Bear, director of the Office of Health Survey Research in Pitt Public Health’s department of behavioral and community health sciences. “Our findings provide strong evidence that it is worthwhile for communities to invest in robust intervention programs that provide treatment, educational and employment opportunities, and positive role models to the whole family.”

The analyses used data from the 2009-2010 Allegheny County Health Survey, which interviewed 5,442 randomly selected residents of the county containing Pittsburgh.

Dr. Bear and his colleagues focused on six adverse childhood events reported by adult residents as having happened in their household when they were children: physical, sexual and emotional abuse, parental mental illness, parental substance abuse, and domestic violence.

The research team, which included experts in epidemiology and psychiatry, found that:

The results are consistent with those of similar surveys conducted in other communities nationwide.

Additional researchers on both these studies are Dr. Patricia I. Documét, Dr. Michael Marshal, Dr. Ronald Voorhees, and Dr. Edmund Ricci, all of Pitt.

For more information, including abstracts, visit