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Jun 03, 2014 02:21 PM EDT

One In Eight US Children Are Abused, Neglected Before The Age of 18

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Nearly one in eight children in the United States are maltreated before they reach age 18, according to a recent study Counsel and Heal reported.

Researchers from Yale University in Connecticut found that nearly 12 percent of children experience a confirmed case of maltreatment in the form of neglect, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

"Maltreatment is on the scale of other major public health concerns that affect child health and well-being," Christopher Wildeman, first author of the study and associate professor of sociology, said in a statement. "Because child maltreatment is also a risk factor for poor mental and physical health outcomes throughout life, the results of this study provide valuable epidemiologic information."

For the study, researchers estimated the cumulative prevalence of confirmed childhood maltreatment by age 18 using the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System Child File, which includes information on all children in the United States with a confirmed report of maltreatment. Analysis of data between 2004 and 2011 showed that more than 5.6 million children had experienced maltreatment during this time period.

The findings also revealed that children of color experience even higher rates of maltreatment, with ne in five black children and one in seven Native American children experiencing maltreatment during the study period, Counsel and Heal reported.

The researchers said child maltreatment is a risk factor for poor health throughout the life course.

"Confirmed child maltreatment is dramatically underestimated in this country. Our findings show that it is far more prevalent than the 1 in 100 that is currently reported," Wildeman, who is also a faculty fellow at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University, said in a statement.

Existing estimates of the proportion of the United States population maltreated during childhood are based on retrospective self-reports, according to the researchers. Records of officially confirmed maltreatment have been used to produce annual rather than cumulative counts of maltreated individuals.

The findings were recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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