The lingering effects of physical punishment

July 16th, 2013 · No Comments · Medicine, News Release, Research

Children given harsh physical punishment are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, arthritis and obesity, a new study by a University of Manitoba professor reports.


Community Health Science assistant professor Tracie Afifi had her findings published in the July 15 issue of the journal Pediatrics. No previous study has comprehensively examined the relationship between physical punishment and several physical health conditions.

Afifi’s study investigated possible associations between harsh physical punishment (including pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting) and several physical health conditions. Crucially though, the study examined this relationship in the absence of more severe child maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, and exposure to intimate partner violence.

After adjusting for sociodemographic variables, family history of dysfunction, and certain mental disorders, Afifi found that harsh physical punishment was associated with higher odds of cardiovascular disease (borderline significance), arthritis, and obesity.

Data were from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions collected in 2004 and 2005 (n = 34,226). The survey was conducted with a representative sample of US adults (20 years or older).

One year ago, Afifi published a study in Pediatrics that reported on the link between harsh physical punishment and mental disorders. Her current study continues that vein of inquiry but focuses on the body, not the mind. And indeed, her latest study, Harsh Physical Punishment in Childhood and Adult Physical Health,   provides evidence that harsh physical punishment — independent of child maltreatment — is associated with a higher likelihood of physical health conditions.

Afifi’s co-authors include: Natalie Mota (University of Manitoba), Harriet MacMillan (McMaster University), and Jitender Sareen (University of Manitoba)

Preparation of this article was supported by a Manitoba Medical Services Foundation (MMSF) award (Dr. Afifi), a Winnipeg Foundation award (Dr. Afifi), a Manitoba Health Research Council (MHRC) establishment award (Dr. Afifi), a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) New Investigator award (#152348, Dr. Sareen), and a MHRC Chair Award (Dr. Sareen). Dr. MacMillan is supported by the David R (Dan) Offord Chair in Child Studies.

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