Bullying may have long-term health consequences -- for children who are bullied as well as those who torment them.
Studies have suggested that bullied children suffer social and emotional harm. New research now finds they also appear to suffer from chronic, systemic inflammation, which can lead to illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adulthood. At the same time, bullies may actually reap social benefits from their actions, which in turn promote good health.
The findings were reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
In a 20-year study of just over 1,400 randomly selected individuals, investigators found the highest levels of an inflammatory marker, called C-reactive protein or CRP, in adults who were bullied as children. That group was compared to children who were both victims and bullies themselves, and individuals who were identified as bullies only.
The number of times a child was bullied correlated to their adult levels of CRP, which rises in response to a variety of stressors, including poor nutrition, lack of sleep and psychosocial factors. All three groups showed elevated levels as adults, but those who had been both victims and bullies had lower CRP levels, similar to those who bullied.
Researchers concluded that bullies may have enjoyed enhanced social status, as measured by their low inflammatory marker levels. In fact, they suggest bullying may be protective against elevations in C-reactive protein in bullies... while creating consequences similar to other forms of childhood trauma in their victims.