Beating and insulting children as a risk for adult cancer, cardiac disease and asthma

Abstract

The use of physical punishment for children is associated with poor psychological and behavioral outcomes, but the causal pathway is controversial, and the effects on later physical health unknown. We conducted a cross-sectional survey of asthma, cancer, and cardiac patients (150 in each category, 75 male) recruited from outpatient clinics and 250 healthy controls (125 male). All participants were 40–60 years old and citizens of Saudi Arabia, where the use of beating and insults is an acceptable parenting style. Demographic data and recalled frequency of beatings and insults as a child were assessed on an 8-point scale. Beating and insults were highly correlated (ρ = 0.846). Propensity score matching was used to control for demographic differences between the disease and healthy groups. After controlling for differences, more frequent beating (once or more per month) and insults were associated with a significantly increased risk for cancer (RR = 1.7), cardiac disease (RR = 1.3) and asthma (RR = 1.6), with evidence of increased risk for cancer and asthma with beating frequency of once every 6 months or more. Our results show that a threatening parenting style of beating and insults is associated with increased risk for somatic disease, possibly because this form of parenting induces stress. Our findings are consistent with previous research showing that child abuse and other early life stressors adversely affect adult somatic health, but provide evidence that the pathogenic effects occur also with chronic minor stress. A stress-inducing parenting style, even when normative, has long term adverse health consequences.

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Correspondence to Michael E. Hyland.

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Hyland, M.E., Alkhalaf, A.M. & Whalley, B. Beating and insulting children as a risk for adult cancer, cardiac disease and asthma. J Behav Med 36, 632–640 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-012-9457-6

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Keywords

  • Physical punishment
  • Corporal punishment
  • Children
  • Cancer
  • Cardiac disease
  • Asthma
  • Health