A study has found a possible link between child abuse, specifically abusive head trauma (AHT), and the economic recession.

I wasn't surprised, but I am disturbed, lead author and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh pediatrician Rachel P. Berger said, the Web site HealthNews.com reported.  

The study involved data regarding 422 children from 74 U.S. counties, most of whom came from lower-income families, ABC News reported.

The children were under the age of five and diagnosed with AHT between Jan. 1, 2004 and June 30, 2009, according to the study abstract.

The counties were located in the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, HealthNews.com reported.

For study purposes, the recession was defined as the period between Dec. 1, 2007 and June 30, 2009, according to the abstract.

Study results were published online in the journal Pediatrics. 

Although it is not possible to prove a causal relationship between the AHT rate and the economy with our analysis, we believe the data are compelling enough to influence policy and clinical decisions, researchers wrote, the Los Angeles Times reported.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were about 3.3 million referrals for approximately six million children who were allegedly maltreated during the federal fiscal year of 2009. Of these six million, 61.9 percent were screened by Child Protective Services.