Childhood Exposure to Violence and Chronic Physical Conditions in a National Sample of US Adolescents

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Exposure to violence is associated with chronic physical conditions in adults. Although violence exposure is common among youths, it is unknown whether violence is associated with chronic physical conditions in childhood and adolescence. We examined the associations of violence exposure with chronic physical conditions in a population-representative sample of US adolescents and determined whether associations were explained by co-occurring mental disorders.


Data were drawn from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), a national cross-sectional survey of 6,483 adolescents (ages 13–17). Lifetime exposure to violence; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition mood, anxiety, and substance disorders; and self-reported arthritis, frequent headaches, back or neck problems, other chronic pain, asthma, and allergies were assessed.


One in 4 (24.99%) adolescents reported exposure to violence. Violence exposure was associated with elevated odds of back/neck pain, headaches, chronic pain, allergies, and asthma (odds ratio [OR], 1.5–2.1; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.1–3.5) after adjustment for sociodemographics, socioeconomic status, and lifetime mental disorders. Regarding new onsets, violence exposure was associated with greater hazard for subsequent first-onset only of back/neck pain (hazard ratio, 1.9; 95% CI, 1.2–3.0) and headaches (hazard ratio, 1.4; 95% CI, 1.1–1.8), and these associations were explained by early-onset mental disorders.


Childhood violence exposure is associated with chronic physical conditions that emerge early in the life course, although associations are stronger for prevalent than incident conditions. Violence exposure predicts incident pain conditions only, and these associations are explained by mental disorders that begin after violence exposure. Interventions and policies aimed at preventing violence and detecting and treating early-onset mental disorders have the potential to reduce morbidity, mortality, and health disparities beginning early in development.

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