Friday, July 06, 2012

Adults smacked as children have higher risk of mental illness later on, say scientists

It's possible that children with mood and mental problems are spanked more often because they behave badly.  Chicken or egg?  The correlation found is tiny anyway

Adults who were hit or smacked as children face higher odds of mental health problems, including mood and anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drug abuse, researchers say.

The study is the first to examine the link between psychological problems and spanking while excluding more severe abuse in order to better gauge the effect of corporal punishment alone.

Those who were hit as children were between two and seven per cent more likely to encounter mental issues later, according to the study from the University of Manitoba in Canada.

That figure may seem low as around half of the US population recalls being spanked in childhood. However, it still shows 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, 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 latest study, published in the US journal Pediatrics, was based on a retrospective survey of more than 600 US adults.

It 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.

In the UK parents are allowed to smack their offspring without causing the 'reddening of the skin'.

Using a nationally representative survey sample of 653 Americans, they found that those who recalled experiencing harsh punishment as children faced higher odds of a range of mental problems.

Between two and five per cent of disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar, anorexia or bulimia were attributable to physical punishment as a child, the study said.

From four to seven percent of more serious problems including personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and intellectual disabilities were associated with such punishments in childhood.

Researchers stressed that the study could not establish that spanking had actually caused these disorders in certain adults, only that there was a link between memories of such punishment and a higher incidence of mental problems.

The survey data came from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions collected between 2004 and 2005, and included adults over age 20.

Participants were asked: 'As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?'

Those who answered "sometimes" or greater were included in the analysis.

Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, said the parents' genes may influence both their response to raising an unruly child as well as their likelihood of passing down certain ailments.

'Parents who are resorting to mechanisms of corporal punishment might themselves be at risk for depression and mental disorders; therefore, there might be a hereditary factor going on in these families,' she said.

Future research could shed more light on the issue. In the meantime, the study offers a reminder that other disciplinary options such as positive reinforcement and removing rewards are viewed more favorably by doctors.

'The reality is, if 50 per cent of the population has experienced being spanked in the past year, most kids are resilient. It is just that there are better ways for parents to discipline kids than spanking,' Fornari said.

'And for some vulnerable kids, the spanking may increase their risk for the development of mental disturbances. So for those reasons it is important to really minimize or extinguish physical punishment.'

The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes striking children for any cause and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that doctors strongly discourage the use of physical punishment.


Why Exercise Doesn't Actually Help You Lose Weight

With news stories coming out this week about mandatory BMI screenings and Disney's new emphasis on nutrition in their programming, obesity is yet again making headlines.

And that means the blatantly unworkable solutions to weight gain — eating less and exercising more — have also made an appearance in your favorite news source. Losing weight simply by trying to eat less is problematic for many reasons, and we've covered it here extensively. But isn't exercise a foolproof way to slim down? Maybe not.

Though exercise is considered a necessity for anybody looking to lose weight, a surprising amount of research shows that exercise may do little to help overweight people shed excess weight, and may even make them eat more.

In a recent lecture about exercise, science writer Gary Taubes put the issue to the audience this way: if you were going to a big dinner party and the host told you to come hungry, how would ensure you showed up ready to eat? The audience responded, as most people would, by suggesting that they'd fast for most of the day and engage in some form of exercise, a long walk perhaps.

The point, says Taubes, is that exercise makes us hungry, which leads us to replace the calories burned by exercising and encourages weight gain. It's a clever hypothetical and many readers would probably treat it as no more. But the data backs it up.

At least four clinical trials have demonstrated that exercise tends to suppress resting metabolic rate. In all four studies overweight participants who engaged in 300-600 calories worth of daily exercise experienced a significant drop in resting metabolism. According to Drs. Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, “Although genetically lean people as a group may respond differently, when overweight humans do more than one hour of endurance exercise daily, resting metabolism on average declines between 5% and 15%.”

Commenting on the pair's findings, Dr. John Briffa points out that this down-regulating of the metabolism is probably the effect Taubes is describing. Much like what happens when caloric intake is severely restricted, "The idea that the body would down-regulate the metabolism in response to exercise makes ... intuitive sense," says Briffa. "It’s not too difficult to imagine that the body would have a similar response to increased calorie expenditure ...."

Critics of this argument would likely cite any number of studies which have reached the opposite conclusion. But as the American College of Sports Medicine explains, the best that can be said about the relationship between weight loss and exercise is that "it is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.”

But if this is the case, why do we assume that exercise is key to weight loss? Volek and Phinney argue that it's a matter of mixing up cause and effect.

Thin people exercise a lot compared to overweight people, and assume that they're slim because of all the exercise. Meanwhile, overweight people tend exercise much less, and we all assume that explains their bigger waistlines.

The truth, very likely due to genetics, is that the body composition of both groups explains the exercise habits, not the other way around.

Diet also plays a role. According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, people who consume a lot of easily digestible carbohydrates (most Americans) are going to be less willing to exercise because of the metabolic effects of such a diet. Energy that ends up trapped in fat cells (just one of the awesome side effects of a high-sugar diet) isn't available to fuel the rest of the body, and one of the results is lethargy.

None of this means that exercise is unhealthy. To the contrary, exercise is beneficial for many reasons. Research suggests that it's good for your memory, reduces risk of death from cardiovascular disease and some cancers, and may help people manage their depression. So we should exercise because it yields all sorts of health benefits. But, we shouldn't count weight loss among those benefits, because it probably isn't one of them.



Garth Godsman said...

As William Briggs notes,, alternative spin could have been "Spanking Good For Future Education, Income: Researchers"

John A said...


read it all.

"Two studies involving low-carb diets made headlines this week. One suggested a low-carb diet may provide a metabolic advantage, while the other suggested a low-carb diet may kill you...

A new study is raising questions about the age-old belief that a calorie is a calorie...
I wasn’t hungry while losing weight on a low-carb diet, and this study hints at what I believe is the reason: fuel availability. If you burn more calories on a low-carb diet than on a low-fat diet, even at the same caloric intake, then your body is either storing less of what you eat or tapping more of what you’ve already stored. Either way, your cells are getting more fuel, which means your body is less likely to slow your metabolism in response to what it considers a fuel shortage...

I believe what some people call a set point is related to our ability to release fatty acids at a rate sufficient to supply us with fuel when blood sugar begins to fall. Obese people release as many fatty acids on average as non-obese people, but here’s the kicker: they require more fat mass to do so. Each unit of fat releases fewer fatty acids, so they need more body fat to release the same number of fatty acids as a thin person."