Children who are exposed to violence such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are more likely to experience faster biological ageing, including pubertal development and increased symptoms of depression, finds a research.
The study showed that in children who experienced early life violence, accelerated epigenetic ageing was associated with increased symptoms of depression.
This means that faster biological ageing may be one way that early life adversity “gets under the skin” to contribute to later health problems.
Conversely, children exposed to forms of early life deprivation including neglect and food insecurity were more likely to experience their puberty at a later stage compared with their peers, the researchers said.
“The findings demonstrate that different types of early-life adversity can have different consequences for children’s development,” said Katie McLaughlin, postdoctoral student at the University of Washington.
For the study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the team examined 247 children and adolescents aged eight to 16 years.
The results indicated that accelerated ageing following exposure to violence early in life can already be detected in children as young as eight years old.
In addition, the team found that there is a need for increased societal investment in reducing the exposure of children to violence and for biomedical and psychological research to reduce the impact of these experiences throughout the lives of these vulnerable individuals.
The association between the ageing metrics and symptoms of depression may offer a way for doctors to identify children who need help, the researchers said.
“Accelerated epigenetic age and pubertal stage could be used to identify youth who are developing faster than expected given their chronological age and who might benefit from intervention,” McLaughlin noted.