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Study shows spanking boosts odds of mental illness in kids, adults

WASHINGTON--People who were hit or spanked as children face higher odds of mental ailments as adults, including mood and anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drug abuse, researchers said Monday.

The study, led by Canadian researchers, is the first to examine the link between psychological problems and spanking, while excluding more severe physical or sexual abuse in order to better gauge the effect of corporal punishment alone.

Those who were spanked or hit as kids were between two and seven percent more likely to encounter mental issues later, said the research in the U.S. journal Pediatrics, based on a retrospective survey of more than 600 U.S. adults.

That figure may seem low, particularly since about half of the U.S. population recalls being spanked in childhood, but nevertheless shows that physical punishment can raise the risk of problems later on, experts said.

“The study is valuable because it opens the conversation about parenting,” said Victor Fornari, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.

The rate “is not dramatically higher, but it is higher, just to suggest that physical punishment is a risk factor for developing more mental disturbances as an adult,” said Fornari, who was not involved in the study.

Previous research has repeatedly shown that children who were physically abused as youngsters suffer from more mental disturbances as adults, and are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior than kids who were not hit.

But these studies have typically included more serious abuse.

The current study excludes both sexual abuse and physical abuse that left bruises, marks or caused injury.

Instead it focuses on “harsh physical punishment,” defined as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting as a form of punishment from elders.

While 32 nations around the world have banned corporal punishment of kids, the United States and Canada are not among them.

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