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CMAJ. Oct 5, 1999; 161(7): 805–809.
PMCID: PMC1230651

Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Little information is available in Canada about the prevalence of and outcomes associated with a history of slapping and spanking in childhood. The objectives of this study were to estimate the prevalence of a history of slapping or spanking in a general population sample and to assess the relation between such a history and the lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders. METHODS: In this general population survey, a probability sample of 9953 residents of Ontario aged 15 years and older who participated in the Ontario Health Supplement was used to examine the prevalence of a history of slapping and spanking. A subgroup of this sample (n = 4888), which comprised people aged 15 to 64 years who did not report a history of physical or sexual abuse during childhood, was used to assess the relation between a history of slapping or spanking and the lifetime prevalence of 4 categories of psychiatric disorder. The measures included a self-administered questionnaire with a question about frequency of slapping and spanking during childhood, as well as an interviewer-administered questionnaire to measure psychiatric disorder. RESULTS: The majority of respondents indicated that they had been slapped or spanked, or both, by an adult during childhood "sometimes" (33.4%) or "rarely" (40.9%); 5.5% reported that this occurred "often." The remainder (20.2%) reported "never" experiencing these behaviours. Among the respondents without a history of physical or sexual abuse during childhood, those who reported being slapped or spanked "often" or "sometimes" had significantly higher lifetime rates of anxiety disorders (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1.43, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.04-1.96), alcohol abuse or dependence (adjusted OR 2.02, 95% CI 1.27-3.21) and one or more externalizing problems (adjusted OR 2.08, 95% CI 1.36-3.16), compared with those who reported "never" being slapped or spanked. There was also an association between a history of slapping or spanking and major depression, but it was not statistically significant (adjusted OR 1.64, 95% CI 0.96-2.80). INTERPRETATION: There appears to be a linear association between the frequency of slapping and spanking during childhood and a lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems.

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Selected References

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