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Physical punishment linked to mood disorders

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PHYSICAL punishment of children, such as pushing or slapping, is linked to an increased incidence of problems, including alcohol abuse or depression, a new study by University of Manitoba researchers concluded.

The study was released Monday in the journal Pediatrics, and is based on data from interviews from 2004 and 2005 with more than 34,000 adults in the United States.

The study -- which defines harsh physical punishment as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting -- suggests "reducing physical punishment may help to decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population."

"The most important thing is that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age," said Dr. Tracie Afifi, assistant professor in the departments of community health sciences, psychiatry and family social sciences, who led the study.

"And that's important because these findings, along with the existing body of literature, indicate that physical punishment is associated with a lot of negative outcomes... (and) by punishing our children and hitting our children, we're putting them at risk for harmful outcomes."

The study shows those who were physically punished were 1.41 times more likely to have major depression compared with someone who wasn't physically punished, a figure that's controlled for socio-demographic differences.

It also shows those who were physically punished were 1.59 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 1.5 times more likely to have a general anxiety disorder.

The study doesn't ask specifically about spanking, but does ask about hitting and slapping.

In Afifi's opinion, spanking a child is hitting or slapping a child. "When we compared people who were physically punished to those who were not, the people who were physically punished had an increased likelihood of having a number of mental disorders, and that included mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders and personality disorders."

The study found girls were less likely than boys to "experience harsh physical punishment."

There was also an unusual finding that "increases in education and income were associated with elevated odds of harsh physical punishment."

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2012 A4

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