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The Nexus Between Childhood Maltreatment and Subsequent Depression, Anxiety, and Development of Asthma in Adults

August 19, 2022

Researchers from the Celedón Laboratory for Pediatric Asthma Research at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh reported findings in the European Respiratory Journal from a study that examined the interplay between maltreatment in childhood, depression and anxiety, and their association with developing asthma as an adult.

Yeuh-Ying Han, PhD, epidemiologist and Data Manager in the Celedón Lab, was the study's lead author. Joining Dr. Han in the investigation were lab colleagues Wei Chen, PhD; Qi Yan, PhD (former member); and Juan C. Celedón, MD, DrPH, ATSF, principal investigator and Division Chief of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at UPMC Children’s.

Study Overview and Significant Findings

A growing body of evidence from researchers, including a significant amount of research effort from the Celedón Laboratory, has shown that psychosocial stressors such as maltreatment during childhood, as well as exposure to violence and other socioeconomic and social determinants of health variables, are associated with the development of asthma and the severity of disease manifestation.

Dr. Han and colleagues designed a study to examine whether the existence of a lifetime major depressive disorder or a lifetime generalized anxiety disorder in adults mediated an association between having asthma as an adult and having a prior maltreatment experience as a child.

For this investigation, the research team explored data collected on British adults in the UK Biobank, a prospective registry of adults aged 40 to 69 that was designed to assess determinants of diseases and improve healthcare outcomes in the British population.

The study has several notable findings that further solidify the associations between maltreatment in childhood and asthma in adults.

Dr. Han and colleagues found that adults in the study who reported any type and level of maltreatment as children, for example, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse, were more likely to have asthma as adults.

Furthermore, the existence of a lifetime major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder through analysis was found to be a significant mediator in the association between asthma in adults and being maltreated as a child.

Lifetime major depressive disorder and lifetime generalized anxiety disorder contributed to 33% and 22 % of the association between child maltreatment experience and adult asthma. This finding was present after accounting for various socioeconomic factors and past or current smoking habits, and remained unchanged after excluding current smokers and former moderate to heavy smokers from the analysis.

“While the association and mediative effects of anxiety and depression are only a part of the complex interplay between asthma in adults and being maltreated at a young age, our findings are clinically significant for providers caring for adults with asthma to be mindful of these potential disorders in their patients,” says Dr. Han.

Explore the complete findings and methodologies of this study using the link below.


Han YY, Yan Q, Chen W, Celedón JC. Child Maltreatment, Anxiety and Depression, and Asthma Among British Adults in the UK Biobank. Eur Respir J. 2022 Mar 17; 2103160. Online ahead of print.