Bullying may have long-term health consequences

May 12, 2014
Credit: Ha'anala 76/Public Domain

Bullied children may experience chronic, systemic inflammation that persists into adulthood, while bullies may actually reap health benefits of increasing their social status through bullying, according to researchers at Duke Medicine.

The study, conducted in collaboration with the University of Warwick, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Emory University, is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of May 12, 2014.

"Our findings look at the biological consequences of , and by studying a marker of inflammation, provide a potential mechanism for how this social interaction can affect later health functioning," said William E. Copeland, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine and the study's lead author.

Earlier studies have suggested that victims of childhood bullying suffer social and emotional consequences into , including increases in anxiety and depression. Yet, bullied children also report , such as pain and illness susceptibility, which may extend beyond psychological outcomes.

"Among victims of bullying, there seems to be some impact on health status in adulthood," Copeland said. "In this study, we asked whether childhood bullying can get 'under the skin' to affect physical health."

Copeland and his colleagues used data from the Great Smoky Mountains Study, a robust, population-based study that has gathered information on 1,420 individuals for more than 20 years. Individuals were randomly selected to participate in the prospective study, and therefore were not at a higher risk of mental illness or being bullied.

Participants were interviewed throughout childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, and among other topics, were asked about their experiences with bullying. The researchers also collected small blood samples to look at biological factors. Using the blood samples, the researchers measured C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of low-grade inflammation and a risk factor for health problems including metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

"CRP levels are affected by a variety of stressors, including poor nutrition, lack of sleep and infection, but we've found that they are also related to psychosocial factors," Copeland said. "By controlling for participants' pre-existing CRP levels, even before involvement in bullying, we get a clearer understanding of how bullying could change the trajectory of CRP levels."

Three groups of participants were analyzed: victims of bullying, those who were both bullies and victims, and those who were purely bullies. Although CRP levels rose for all groups as they entered adulthood, victims of childhood bullying had much higher CRP levels as adults than the other groups. In fact, the CRP levels increased with the number of times the individuals were bullied.

Young adults who had been both bullies and victims as children had CRP levels similar to those not involved in bullying, while bullies had the lowest CRP – even lower than those uninvolved in bullying. Thus, being a bully and enhancing one's through this interaction may protect against increases in the inflammatory marker.

While bullying is more common and perceived as less harmful than childhood abuse or maltreatment, the findings suggest that bullying can disrupt levels of inflammation into adulthood, similar to what is seen in other forms of childhood trauma.

"Our study found that a child's role in bullying can serve as either a risk or a protective factor for low-grade inflammation," Copeland said. "Enhanced social status seems to have a biological advantage. However, there are ways children can experience social success aside from bullying others."

The researchers concluded that reducing bullying, as well as reducing inflammation among victims of bullying, could be key targets for promoting physical and emotional health and lessening the risk for diseases associated with inflammation.

Explore further: Impact of childhood bullying still evident after 40 years

More information: Childhood bullying involvement predicts low-grade systemic inflammation into adulthood, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1323641111

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9 comments

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Osiris1
2 / 5 (4) May 12, 2014
Well, then the best treatment for populations is to test all for low levels of CRP and sentence all of them to death or exile to some island from which there is no possible escape...no appeal. Test all at a young age before they can spread ruin and disease to its clean members, and liquidate them all as a class to prevent the transmission of their genes of filth to the next or succeeding generations
flashgordon
3.7 / 5 (3) May 12, 2014
Well, then the best treatment for populations is to test all for low levels of CRP and sentence all of them to death or exile to some island from which there is no possible escape...no appeal. Test all at a young age before they can spread ruin and disease to its clean members, and liquidate them all as a class to prevent the transmission of their genes of filth to the next or succeeding generations


I don't think you get it; the bullies should be rounded up; and guess who the bullies are?! You'll be surprised! The vast majority of the population is too stupid to realize they are bullies. Why do you think a person who grows up in a particular country takes on that countries religion(in general; most of the time)? That's right, the threat of bullying!

flashgordon
1 / 5 (1) May 12, 2014
http://testingdot...pot.com/

. . . and don't you worry, nanotech, a.i. is coming. People who have been wronged will demand the mind-reading capabilities of the near future. And because nanotechnologists want to confine all of humanity here on earth, there's nowhere for the irrationalists(always bullyies) to run!
flashgordon
3 / 5 (2) May 12, 2014
Diodorus of Sicily is interesting here because he's b.c. time and notes that hell is made up to keep people inline(book 1.2.2 -"For if it be true that the myths which are related about Hades, in spite of the fact that their subject-matter is fictitious, contribute greatly to fostering piety and justice among men,")."

Parents the world over have bullyed their children to conform to the relgion they were brought up on because that's what their parents did to them. They basically said believe, or you're going to hell.

More from my Gospel of Truth, http://wwwscienti...uth.html
Huns
5 / 5 (1) May 15, 2014
It's funny how this article talks about bullying and child abuse as though they were separate things. Bullying IS child abuse.
Sinister1812
not rated yet May 16, 2014
Bullying isn't exclusive to children either. I definitely think there's a link with social anxiety and depression.
sirchick
5 / 5 (1) May 17, 2014
Bullying isn't exclusive to children either. I definitely think there's a link with social anxiety and depression.


I'm sure its already well known anxiety and depression are linked.. unless you meant something else.
Sinister1812
not rated yet May 17, 2014
Bullying isn't exclusive to children either. I definitely think there's a link with social anxiety and depression.


I'm sure its already well known anxiety and depression are linked.. unless you meant something else.


I meant they are probably linked with bullying. Sorry I didn't really word that properly. lol
pcbulk
not rated yet May 17, 2014
Lots of similar studies with similar conclusion (search engine). This is why many countries now ban parents from corporal/violent punishment against children, because it further burdens both their public health care systems and legal/prison systems (antisocial behavior); politicians must deal with the budget, and though I'm a cynic, they may even care about the children.

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