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For the record

"Cancer danger of smacking children"  Image

"Cancer danger of smacking children"

On 13th November 2012 articles in the Daily Mail, the Express, the Sun and the Telegraph, linked 'smacking' children with increased risk of cancer, heart disease and asthma in later life.  These articles were based on a study by Plymouth University psychology professor Michael Hyland who hailed the work as “a new perspective” on the issue of corporal punishment. The research is to be published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine.

Here, courtesy of the Science Media Centre, Dr Andrea Danese and Professor David Spiegelhalter put the claims in context.

Dr Andrea Danese, Clinical Lecturer in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London:

“The evidence is largely based on retrospective reports of childhood maltreatment. In other words, instead of assessing maltreatment in childhood years and following children for years until they reach adulthood to check their health status, often researchers have asked adults with or without disease to report on their memories of maltreatment in childhood. The claims may therefore be biased or overstated, because ill people may be more likely to report unhappy childhood.“

“Another problem is confounding. What appears to be the effect of child maltreatment on later disease, may in fact be the effect of poverty, social isolation, or other factors that are related to both maltreatment and later disease.”

Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of The Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge:

“I would be very cautious about over-interpreting these results. For example, the controls are taken from administrators and nurses at the hospital treating the patients, and so are likely to differ in many ways from the ill people. The controls reported less beating and insulting as children, so maybe not being beaten encourages people to enter a caring profession, rather than protecting them from disease?”

Document type: For The Record

Published: 13 November 2012

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