According to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, children who are bullied suffer more than just psychological and social problems; their risk of physical health problems might be about double that of kids who aren’t bullied.
The study findings, discussed on MedPageToday.com, weren’t surprising, as all the individual studies included in this meta-analysis (several separate studies examined in conjunction with each other) had shown higher rates of health complaints in bullied versus nonbullied children, and in nearly all of them, the differences were statistically significant.
The data pooled from six studies involved more than 3,900 children. They looked at complaints such as headache, disordered sleep and abdominal pain in kids who reported being bullied at school compared with those who didn’t report being bullied.
Another set of data derived from 24 different studies was similar; those studies involved more than 200,000 children.
The studies occurred throughout the world, in the U.S., China, India, Mexico, Turkey and many nations in Western Europe. The follow-up ranged from nine months to 11 years.
The researchers used studies that reported incidences of physical symptoms other than traumatic injuries in children who reported bullying or no bullying. The determination of whether or not one had been bullied was that of the interviewed children, or in reports by parents or teachers. Voluntary, self-reporting can skew study results because it’s subject to mistakes or misperceptions in recalling the events. But meta-analyses such as this one provide more persuasive results because of their size and scope.
The study’s authors recommended that pediatricians consider bullying as a cause when their patients present with headache, respiratory and eating problems and insomnia. "Any recurrent and unexplained somatic symptom can be a warning sign of bullying victimization," the researchers wrote.
They also said that physicians should review the potential symptoms of bullying with parents because children are often reluctant to talk openly about bullying episodes. If your child complains of something like a headache or stomach ache that has no apparent or logical explanation, consider the possibility that he or she is being bullied, and treat it as the health issue it is.
For more information about conditions that might invite bullying, see our blog “A Profile of Kids at Risk of Being Bullied.” Also, consult StopBullying.gov, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.