NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Teens who have suffered violence at the hands of an intimate partner are more likely to display a number of risky health behaviors, from disordered eating to suicidal thoughts, research shows.
“There isn’t one specific behavior or concern that seems to arise from adolescent dating violence,” study researcher Dr. Diann M. Ackard of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, told Reuters Health. For example, girls who’ve been abused on a date don’t always develop eating disorders. “In general, what we’ve found is that adolescent dating violence puts young individuals, both girls and boys, at risk for a myriad of health risk behaviors,” Ackard said.
As many as 1 in 5 female adolescents and 1 in 10 males have been abused physically or sexually by a dating partner, Ackard and her colleagues note in the Journal of Pediatrics.
To understand how this violence might impact teens’ mental health, the researchers analyzed data from Project EAT, a study of eating behaviors and weight related issues in adolescents. They compared 23 boys and 102 girls who reported having experienced dating violence with 671 male and 720 female adolescents with no history of intimate partner abuse. Study participants were surveyed in 1999 and again in 2004.
Both boys and girls who had experienced dating violence were more likely to display three or more of 10 behavioral and psychological health problems, including binge eating, cigarette smoking, alcohol or marijuana use, depressive symptoms and low self-esteem, the researchers found. The relationship was particularly strong for girls.
Parents, educators, health professionals and others who work with adolescents should be aware of dating violence, Ackard said, and should also understand today’s teens have their own language for talking about sexual relationships, for example “hooking up” or “hanging out.”
She suggested that gauging the quality of teens’ relationships by asking them how they feel when they are with a partner can help parents and others spot whether a girl or boy is at risk of abuse.
It’s also important not to assume that all dating relationships will be heterosexual, or that the victims of dating violence are always female, Ackard said, noting that “there certainly have been instances in which the female partner in a relationship is doing more of the violent acts than the male.”
SOURCE: Journal of Pediatrics, November 2007.
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