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Study Ties Childhood Physical Punishment to Adult Health Problems

Update Date: Jul 15, 2013 02:30 PM EDT

How to raise a child right is a very subjective matter. There are no two sets of parents that will use the same exact parenting tactics. Despite the differences between how parents teach, there are some practices that will have negative effects on the children. These effects can continue into adulthood as well. In a new study, researchers specifically focused on a particular parenting tactic known as physical punishment.

Although physical punishment, such as slapping, spanking or shoving, is shunned upon, it occurs more than people would like to believe. In this study, researchers looked at 34, 226 American adults from a government study conducted in 2004 to 2005. Of this sample set, just fewer than four percent of the participants qualified in the category of being harshly punished when they were children. Of these adults that were previously physically punished, whether it was a light slapping of the hand or a tough grabbing of the arm, research suggests that these children were at a higher risk of obesity, arthritis and heart disease in adulthood.

After factoring in variables, such as family income and level of abuse, that could affect these health issues, the researchers found that the four percent group of adults had a 31 percent rate of obesity. The rest of the sample that did not experience childhood physical punishment had an obesity rate of 26 percent. In terms of arthritis rate, the adults that were physically punished had a rate of 22.5 percent while the other group had a rate of 20 percent. For heart disease, the rate was nine percent in the punished group versus seven percent in the unpunished group.

Despite the association between physical punishment and adult chronic illness, the researchers remind people that their findings did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. However, several previous studies have found that physical punishment or abuse can have a negative effect on a child's mental health. These studies found that punishment increased aggressive behavior and contributed to a poorer overall emotional well-being.

"It's an association. We can't say that punishment is causing the physical health problems," the lead researcher, Tracie Afifi from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada said according to HealthDay. "Kids need discipline. But it shouldn't involve physical force."

The results were published in Pediatrics on July 15. 

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