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The economic burden of childhood verbal abuse by adults is estimated at $300 billion globally

The economic burden of childhood verbal abuse by adults is estimated at $300 billion globally


Childhood verbal abuse by adults costs society an estimated $300 billion (£239 billion) a year globally, show findings presented at the first international conference on childhood verbal abuse, organized by UCL, Words Matter and the World Health Organization (WHO).

of Words matter: Impact and prevention of childhood verbal abuse The conference marks the first time that experts from around the world have come together to focus attention on the lifelong damage of childhood verbal abuse and the need to develop solutions.

Verbal abuse in childhood includes behaviors that can be harmful to a child's well-being, such as belittling, yelling, and threatening language.

The new study, led by Professor Xiangming Fang (China Agricultural University and Georgia State University) used data from the US Centers for the Prevention and Control of Violence Against Children Surveys in four countries: Cambodia (1,212 participants), Kenya (1099 participants), Colombia (1415 participants) and Moldova (906 participants), to analyze the effects of childhood verbal abuse on selected health outcomes, including mental distress, self-harm, drug use and problem drinking.

The study then estimated disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost (the total amount of healthy life years lost due to people dying prematurely or living with a disability caused by a common disease or community health problem) due to health outcomes attributed to childhood verbal abuse to estimate its economic burden.

These DALY losses were then converted to a monetary value — assuming that one DALY was equal to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.

The average economic burden of childhood verbal abuse across the four countries was found to be 0.34% of GDP. When this figure was applied to global GDP, it equated to about $300 billion annually.

Meanwhile, DALY losses for outcomes attributable to childhood verbal abuse were significantly greater than the corresponding estimates for breast cancer and liver cancer in the four countries studied, and similar to disability-adjusted life-years lost. from hypertensive heart diseases.

Conference Chair Professor Peter Fonagy (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences), said: “Verbal abuse of children by adults is very common, but it is one of the most important modifiable causes of mental health disorders across the lifespan.

“Treating it gives us a powerful lever to prevent mental health disorders and their huge cost to both the UK and the global economy.

“I'm delighted that with the charity Words Matter, we have an organization finally focusing on this problem. Greater awareness of childhood verbal abuse has the potential to dramatically reduce the economic and psychological burden of psychiatric disorders.”

Previous research by experts at UCL and Wingate University* found that childhood verbal abuse can be just as damaging as other forms of abuse and have significant negative impacts on children's mental and physical health and development – leading to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm, substance abuse and even suicide.

Professor Xiangming Fang said: “The economic burden of childhood verbal abuse by adults that we have quantified clearly highlights the shocking hidden cost of the harm it causes to children throughout their lives. However, this is likely to be a a significant underestimate given the impact of childhood word abuse on several outcomes, including health care utilization costs and legal system costs, which were not included in the analysis due to lack of data.

“There is clearly a significant opportunity for economic growth by ending childhood verbal abuse and by revealing these numbers, we hope that this form of childhood maltreatment will be given the attention it deserves. Vital is now undertaking more research and investing funds and resources to prevent so that the cost to society can be reduced.”

Jessica Bondy, Founder of Words Matter, said: “For too long, childhood verbal abuse by adults has flown under the radar, yet it is all around us. We hope this conference will help put the issue on the map and spur action. It is possible to end childhood verbal abuse with greater awareness, understanding and cooperation around the globe to find solutions. We must act now, given the lifelong impact on mental health and well-being and children and the monumental cost to society. Let's build children up, not tear them down and create a better future for children.”

Tim Loughton MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children and former Children's Minister, said: “By convening this conference, the work of Words Matter and its expert advisers is filling a gap in understanding the harm that can be caused children by the way adults communicate with them and ways to prevent While we are all too familiar with the harm done to children as a result of physical violence, verbal abuse is more insidious and widespread, affecting many people, the health whose mind is already deeply affected. due to the covid pandemic.

“We all have a duty of care to treat children with respect and that includes the words and language we use with them. This conference highlights how words really matter and how, if used badly, they can have serious implications sustainable for our children and our economy.”

Former Health Secretary and Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation and currently Opposition Whip, Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath said: “All children deserve to grow up happy and healthy, but millions are suffering verbal abuse from adults, which has been hidden for too long. In the shadows. Thanks to the work of Words Matter, we now know that this is not only affecting children's mental health and development, but also, as this new study shows, at a cost of great for society as a whole. We all want children to develop armed with the tools to lead safe and productive adult lives, and the words they hear from adults are so important in building self-confidence and trust. By shining a light on this abuse, lives can and will be changed.”

Limitations of the study

$300 billion is likely a significant underestimate given the impact of childhood verbal abuse on several outcomes, including health care utilization costs and legal system costs, which were not included in the analysis due to a lack of data. data.

Additionally, the costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer were not taken into account.

Many risk factors can contribute to the occurrence of any disease. When a disease is attributed to these factors, the maximum attribution is limited to 100%. However, if multiple risk factors are included and overlap, the sum of DALY estimates for all risk factors can exceed 100%. Failure to fully account for these interrelationships could potentially result in overestimation of the numbers.

The field lacks reliable longitudinal data to assess the long-term consequences of childhood verbal abuse.

The lack of high-quality cohort studies that adopt a life-course perspective in evaluating economic data may lead to a substantial underestimation of the economic impact of childhood verbal abuse.

Prioritizing the collection of longitudinal data on the consequences of childhood verbal abuse should be a major focus of future efforts.




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