Child maltreatment: implications for mental and physical health in adulthood

A study conducted in Canada shows that severe physical punishment such as pushing, grabbing, slapping, hitting, in the absence of more severe child maltreatment, is associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, addictions and personality disorders in victims once they reach adulthood. Abuse also has repercussions on physical health: obesity, addictions, smoking, etc.

Tracie O. Afifi, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, and her team surveyed more than 34,650 adults about their childhood experiences, including how often they were physically punished by a parent or adult living in the home. Of these, 9% said they had been physically punished, but not abused. Participants were also asked about mood, anxiety and personality disorders, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.

The survey results showed that people who were physically punished as children were more likely to have mental or emotional problems in adulthood. According to the results, 7% of mental disorders are related to physical punishment.

A previous study conducted by the same team in 2006 already made it possible to attribute to corporal punishment 2 to 5% of psychiatric disorders in the general population such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, addictive behavior, suicidal risk, and 4 to 7% of psychiatric illnesses such as: personality disorders such as borderline, schizotypal, asocial personalities.

Another study conducted this time among 23,395 Canadians showed a high prevalence of victims: 32% claim to have been abused in childhood. Among this sample, more than a quarter report physical abuse and about 10% sexual assault. These results demonstrate the importance of acting at the preventive level with people suffering from psychic disorders in order to curb the development of subsequent heavier psychological disorders as soon as possible.

Childhood maltreatment: implications for physical health in adulthood

The incidence of child abuse also has an impact on physical health. A 2016 report, Child Abuse and Physical Health in Adulthood, used data from a representative sample of the Canadian population to examine three types of child abuse of children related to 13 physical health problems such as obesity, tobacco use, addictions and other physical health problems.

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The authors of the Canadian report state that “the findings highlight the link between three important types of child maltreatment, on the one hand, and certain physical health problems and general health in adulthood, d ‘somewhere else.

Given the relative lack of information on the relationship between child maltreatment and physical health, compared to mental health, physicians’ knowledge of the role of childhood maltreatment in relation to physical health problems are to be explored further.

Indeed, exposure to childhood abuse can affect the treatment of physical illnesses. From a public health perspective, there is growing recognition that preventing child maltreatment has important implications for reducing mental health problems but also for improving health outcomes. physical.


Afifi, TO, Mota, N.: Physical punishment and mental disorders: Results from a nationally representative US sample. Pediatrics, 130 doi: 10.1542/peds. 2011-2947.

Afifi TO, Brownridge: Physical punishment, childhood abuse and psychiatric disorders. Child Abuse Negl 2006;30:1093-103.

Afifi, Tracie O, et al. Child abuse and mental disorders in Canada CMAJ, 2014 186 (9) E324-E332;

Afifi Tracie O., MacMillan Harriet L.: Corporal punishment and mental disorders: results according to a representative sample of the American population,


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