A child abuse report is filed every 10 seconds in the United States, and more than five children die as a result of abuse daily.
In some cases, the physical marks of violence are easy to identify on a child's body, but researchers at Duke University in Durham, N. C., have discovered lifelong damage on the DNA of children who have been abused.
What repeated use does to your sneaker, can tell us an awful lot about what repeated abuse does to a small child.
Laces have plastic caps keeping every thread in place and our shoes in good shape.
Our chromosomes also have caps called telomeres which keep our threads of DNA from unraveling.
The more damage done to a sneaker, the faster the caps wear off and the faster the shoe wears out.
The more abuse a child suffers, the faster their telomeres and, maybe, their life span shortens.
"They are aging at the cellular level at a much faster rate," said Dr. Idan Shalev, a researcher at Duke University.
A research team lead by Shalev studied 118 pairs of twins who had suffered multiple forms of violence, including domestic abuse, physical harm and bullying.
Starting at five years old, those exposed to at least two forms of abuse had shorter telomeres by the age of 10.
"When they reach a very critically short length, they tell the cell to stop dividing," said Shalev.
That means the cell dies.
These DNA caps are like a molecular clock and they show us that stress can speed up a child's biological age.
Even worse, shorter telomeres are associated with chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, dementia and cancer.
"So, this is really a sad story," said Shalev. "It screams out to policy makers and to parents as well to try to prevent stress and harm in children."
While a shoelace can be replaced, damaged DNA is far trickier. The study, however, may point to ways in which the shortening can be reversed.
A healthy diet, exercise and meditation may bring back the chromosomal youth lost by these kids.
If that data proves true, then the best investment in our children's preventative care may be in finding ways to stop the abuse to protect them.
Dr. Idan Shalev says researchers at Duke University were perplexed over one particular finding. At the age of 10, some of the children had longer telomeres. Researchers don't know why yet, but hope to find clues when they take another look at the children's DNA on their 18th birthday.
The following information is from a study published by Molecular Psychiatry entitled "Exposure to violence during childhood is associated with telomere erosion from 5 to 10 years of age: a longitudinal study" <http://www.nature.com/mp/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/mp201232a.html>.
The following information is from a Los Angeles Times article entitled "Exposure to violence in children harms DNA, study says" <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/25/health/la-he-violence-aging-20120425>.
The following information was published by Live Science in an article entitled "Bullying, Child Abuse Hasten Aging in Kids"<http://www.livescience.com/19858-bullying-child-abuse-aging.html>.
The following was published by The University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center in an article entitled "Are Telomeres the key to aging and cancer?" <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/begin/traits/telomeres/>.
The following was published by Childhelp in an online article entitled "National Child Abuse Statistics" <http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics>.
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