About 1 in 8 American children will experience some form of maltreatment serious enough to be confirmed by government authorities, new research shows.
Slightly more than 2 percent of kids are victimized during their first year of life, 5.8 percent are mistreated before their fifth birthdays, and 12.5 percent experience some form of abuse or neglect before they turn 18, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
"Confirmed child maltreatment is common, on the scale of other major public health concerns that affect child health and well-being," the study authors wrote.
The estimates are based on data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System Child Files, which identified nearly 5.7 million children who suffered documented cases of neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse from 2004 to 2011. (The true count of victims is believed to be much higher, since most cases never make it to government officials.)
Researchers from Yale University, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Berkeley, Columbia University and the University of Washington used that data to extrapolate the cumulative risk that American children would become victims of these types of maltreatment before they reached adulthood.
African American children were found to be the most at risk, with 20.9 percent of them projected to suffer abuse or neglect by the time they turned 18. The study authors offered a vivid way to put that 1-in-5 risk into perspective: "Black children are about as likely to have a confirmed report of maltreatment during childhood as they are to complete college," they wrote.
Next on the list of vulnerability were Native American children, with a 14.5 percent cumulative risk of abuse or neglect.
They were followed by Latino kids, with a 13 percent cumulative risk, the researchers found.
An estimated 10.7 percent of white children will suffer maltreatment before reaching adulthood – slightly below the nationwide average. Children of Asian or Pacific Islander descent were found to have the lowest risk, at 3.8 percent, the study authors reported.
Gender also seems to play a role. By 13 percent to 12.1 percent, girls are more likely than boys to suffer abuse or neglect during childhood, the researchers found. Though the difference was small, it was statistically significant, they reported.
Abuse and neglect are also linked to other serious physical and mental health problems, the researchers noted. Studies have found that people who were victimized during childhood go on to have higher rates of obesity and HIV infection. They're also more likely to attempt suicide and to die prematurely.
Over a lifetime, the costs stemming from childhood abuse or neglect add up to $124 billion per year in the United States. That's about what the country spends to treat stroke victims or patients with Type 2 diabetes, according to a 2012 study in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect.