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Victims of partner violence and child abuse face a significantly increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life

Ann Arbor | August 17, 2023

New research in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine documents a consistent risk level across race and gender

According to the results of a new studyopens in new tab/window in the American Journal of Preventive Medicineopens in new tab/window, published by Elsevier, exposure to interpersonal violence throughout childhood or adulthood increases an individual’s chance of developing adult-onset diabetes by more than 20%. Data showed the risk level is similar among adult males and females and lower income Black and White Americans.

Lead investigator Maureen Sanderson, PhD, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Meharry Medical College, explained, “While previous research has linked exposure to interpersonal violence with a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes, our study is the first to confirm a consistent association among different genders and races within a large, diverse population. Moreover, we were able to establish the temporal sequence for experiencing violence and the subsequent risk of developing diabetes over time.”

Previous research has linked lifetime exposure to interpersonal violence or abuse to an increased risk of chronic psychosocial stress, anxiety, depression, and obesity. The investigators took a deeper look at the relationship between these factors, particularly obesity, and the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes using data from the Southern Community Cohort Study, a large study of an economically and ethnically diverse population in the southeastern US. More than 25,000 participants were contacted multiple times from 2002 to 2015, answering questions about partner violence (including adult psychological harm, physical violence, and threats), child abuse and neglect (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse), and current health (including diagnoses for adult-onset diabetes).

Co-investigator Ann Coker, PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, College of Medicine and Center for Research on Violence Against Women, University of Kentucky,  noted, “From this uniquely diverse cohort of over 25,000 participants, we saw that two commonly occurring forms of interpersonal violence, partner violence and child abuse (36% and 32%, respectively, in the study group), increased the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes by 20-35% when compared to individuals in this same cohort who had not experienced interpersonal violence. These forms of violence increase the risk of trauma-associated stress disorders, which can cause adult-onset diabetes.”

Experiencing both child abuse and adult violence increased the risk of developing diabetes by 35% for both Black and White participants and males and females.

Rates of interpersonal violence, psychosocial distress, and obesity all increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Sanderson commented, “Our finding that lifetime interpersonal violence was associated with a significantly increased risk of developing diabetes across race and gender before the additional social stress of the COVID-19 pandemic strongly suggests the need for helping professionals across disciplines to implement effective violence prevention and intervention strategies to reduce the short- and long-term social and health consequences of partner violence and child abuse.”

Dr. Coker added, “The good news is that effective intervention and prevention resources exist that can help patients and communities prevent or reduce partner violence and child abuse/neglect and have an impact on health outcomes including type 2 diabetes.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control provides toolkitsopens in new tab/window for clinicians’ and communities’ use to prevent violence. Key strategies include strengthening economic supports for families, promoting social norms to protect against adversity and violence, ensuring strong starts for children, teaching skills, connecting youth to caring adults, and intervening to lessen harm.

In clinics, professionals can use safe, sensitive, trauma-informed approaches to ask patients about their current or lifetime experiences with child abuse or neglect and partner violence.

Co-investigator L. Lauren Brown, PhD, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Meharry Medical College, noted, “These violence prevention strategies can reduce and ultimately prevent the lifelong consequences of child abuse and partner violence -- but only if we screen and engage people for care. Asking about past violence can begin to address the chronic stress response that leads to diabetes. Asking about current violence can interrupt the violence with skillful follow-up from clinical and community-based resources.”


Notes for editors

The article is "Lifetime Interpersonal Violence or Abuse and Diabetes Rates by Sex and Race," by Maureen Sanderson, PhD, Mekeila Cook, PhD, L. Lauren Brown, PhD, Veronica Mallett, MD, and Ann L. Coker, PhD ( in new tab/window). It appears online in advance of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, volume 65, issue 5 (November 2023), published by Elsevier.

The article is openly available at in new tab/window.

Research reported in this study was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award number U01CA202979 and by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under award number U54MD007586. SCCS data collection was performed by the Survey and Biospecimen Shared Resource which is supported in part by the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (P30CA068485).

Full text of this article is also available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Jillian B. Morgan at +1 734 936 1590 or [email protected]opens in new tab/window. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact L. Lauren Brown, PhD, at [email protected]opens in new tab/window or Mekeila Cook, PhD, at [email protected]opens in new tab/window.

About the American Journal of Preventive Medicine  

The American Journal of Preventive Medicineopens in new tab/window is the official journal of the American College of Preventive Medicineopens in new tab/window and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Researchopens in new tab/window. It publishes articles in the areas of prevention research, teaching, practice and policy. Original research is published on interventions aimed at the prevention of chronic and acute disease and the promotion of individual and community health. The journal features papers that address the primary and secondary prevention of important clinical, behavioral and public health issues such as injury and violence, infectious disease, women's health, smoking, sedentary behaviors and physical activity, nutrition, diabetes, obesity, and alcohol and drug abuse. Papers also address educational initiatives aimed at improving the ability of health professionals to provide effective clinical prevention and public health services. The journal also publishes official policy statements from the two co-sponsoring organizations, health services research pertinent to prevention and public health, review articles, media reviews, and editorials. www.ajpmonline.orgopens in new tab/window

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray’s Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundationopens in new tab/window, we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELXopens in new tab/window, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. For more information on our work, digital solutions and content, visit

Media contact


Jillian B. Morgan

MPH, Managing Editor AJPM

+1 734 936 1590

E-mail Jillian B. Morgan