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Physical Punishment and Obesity

punishmentRegular readers will be well aware of the relationship between mental, physical and sexual abuse with the development of binge eating disorder and obesity in later life.

Now, a study by Tracie Afifi and colleagues from the University of Manitoba, published in Pediatrics, suggests a possible link between even less severe trauma and adult obesity.

The researchers examined the possible associations between harsh physical punishment (ie, pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting) in the absence of more severe child maltreatment (ie, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, and exposure to intimate partner violence with adult health problems in a large (34,000) nationally representative (US) dataset.

Even after adjustment for sociodemographic variables, family history of dysfunction, and Axis I and II mental disorders, physical punishment was associated with higher odds of cardiovascular disease (borderline significance), arthritis, and obesity (adjusted odds ratios ranged from 1.20 to 1.30).

As the authors note,

“These findings inform the ongoing debate around the use of physical punishment and provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is associated with a higher likelihood of physical health conditions.”

For clinicians, questions around physical punishment in childhood as a factor contributing to adult obesity may well be in order.

For parents, the author are adamant to point out that such recommendations against physical punishment do not speak against the use of discipline – rather, parents should be encouraged to seek out positive parenting programs that encourage non-physical forms of discipline to raise well-adjusted kids.

Edmonton, AB

ResearchBlogging.orgAfifi TO, Mota N, Macmillan HL, & Sareen J (2013). Harsh Physical Punishment in Childhood and Adult Physical Health. Pediatrics PMID: 23858428




  1. but which came first, the problem behavior or the punishment? It was likely the problem behavior, to which obesity is related. We are having difficulty to cope with ourselves, and that is the root of the problem. We want, we crave, we demand, and we frustrated ourselves, as we frustrated our parents to the point they lost it. It is that drive that is the problem, and when the drive gets pointed to food… obesity.

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  2. Think you would get a clearer picture if the study had a different title. Perhaps the real issue is a blurring of body boundaries. Maybe these are relevant questions?
    Who and when is it ok to spank?
    Is it ok for a child to say no to hugging or kissing a parent, other relative, family friends goodnight?
    Who do you rewards with candy, hot dogs, sugary drinks, chips?
    Who is it inappropriate to reward that way and what are your alternative options?
    Who do you avoid interacting with by either using yourself or giving them electronic devices – tv, computer, cell phones, etc.?
    Who is it ok to comment on their body as a whole or individual parts or speak freely to about how you honestly react to their particular body type? Do you call them a nickname that refers to their body or body parts?
    Do your children select their own clothing or do you choose their clothes? What are the criteria for vetoing an outfit?
    Is the number on the bathroom scale private information or is it important that an adult sees or records a child’s weight. What are acceptable reasons for other adults weighing your child?
    Do you have a picture of all your kids on your desk? Is there a child that doesn’t match the image or brand that you are projecting?
    Do you attend events where your child is the star and do you also attend events where your child is struggling and might be mocked?

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