Self Reported Childhood Difficulties, Adult Multimorbidity and Allostatic Load. A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Norwegian HUNT Study
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionPLoS ONE 2015 10.1371/journal.pone.0130591
Background: Multimorbidity receives increasing scientific attention. So does the detrimental health impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Aetiological pathways from ACE to complex disease burdens are under investigation. In this context, the concept of allostatic overload is relevant, denoting the link between chronic detrimental stress, widespread biological perturbations and disease development. This study aimed to explore associations between self-reported childhood quality, biological perturbations and multimorbidity in adulthood. Materials and Methods: We included 37 612 participants, 30–69 years, from the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study, HUNT3 (2006–8). Twenty one chronic diseases, twelve biological parameters associated with allostatic load and four behavioural factors were analysed. Participants were categorised according to the self-reported quality of their childhood, as reflected in one question, alternatives ranging from ‘very good’ to ‘very difficult’. The association between childhood quality, behavioural patterns, allostatic load and multimorbidity was compared between groups. Results: Overall, 85.4%of participants reported a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ childhood; 10.6% average, 3.3% ‘difficult’ and 0.8% ‘very difficult’. Childhood difficulties were reported more often among women, smokers, individuals with sleep problems, less physical activity and lower education. In total, 44.8%of participants with a very good childhood had multimorbidity compared to 77.1%of those with a very difficult childhood (Odds ratio: 5.08; 95% CI: 3.63– 7.11). Prevalences of individual diseases also differed significantly according to childhood quality; all but two (cancer and hypertension) showed a significantly higher prevalence (p<0.05) as childhood was categorised as more difficult. Eight of the 12 allostatic parameters differed significantly between childhood groups. Conclusions: We found a general, graded association between self-reported childhood difficulties on the one hand and multimorbidity, individual disease burden and biological perturbations on the other. The finding is in accordance with previous research which conceptualises allostatic overload as an important route by which childhood adversities become biologically embodied.