Kentucky researcher helps link intimate partner violence with diabetes risk

By: - July 18, 2023 4:03 pm

People who experience intimate partner violence or the threat of it are much more likely to end up with diabetes, according to a new study published by a University of Kentucky researcher and others. AaronAmat, iStock / Getty Images Plus.

People who experience intimate partner violence or the threat of it are much more likely to end up with diabetes, according to a new study published by a University of Kentucky researcher and others. 

Experiencing violence, abuse and neglect as adults and children increased the risk of adult-onset diabetes in women and men by 23% to 35%, the study showed. 

The findings were recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Researchers attributed the heightened risk to the elevated cortisol levels and suppressed insulin levels that occur in the human body in response to violence or chronic stress. 

UK researcher Ann Coker, who’s also a professor of epidemiology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the university’s College of Medicine, said the study is the first of its kind. 

“Before this research, we knew that partner violence was associated with diabetes among women, but we did not know that violence preceded diabetes development,” Coker said. “We had no data on this relationship for men or within racial groups.” 

Kentucky already has high rates of domestic violence 

Ann Coker helped link lifetime intimate partner violence with risk of diabetes. (Photo provided).

A recent statewide report on domestic violence showed nearly half of women and more than a third of men in Kentucky experience intimate partner violence or the threat of it. 

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 11.4% of Kentuckians had diabetes, a decrease from the two years prior. 

Diabetes is a chronic condition that hinders the body’s ability to make enough insulin to properly break down foods, per the CDC. There are several different types of diabetes. 

More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, the CDC says, and many don’t know it. 

Additionally, Kentuckians experience high rates of child abuse and adverse childhood experiences.

Researchers collected data for the study before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic may have made the risk of diabetes worse by increasing stress, another researcher in the study said. 

“Our findings also show an increased risk in a timeframe before the additional social stress of the COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Maureen Sanderson, the study’s lead author and a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Meharry Medical College, said in a statement.

“This 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,” Sanderson added. 

Interventions, Sanderson said, can 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.”

Map of Southern Community Cohort Study participant locations provided by Maureen Sanderson, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College.


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.