Childhood Bullying Linked to Adult Inflammatory Diseases
Earlier this month, I wrote about the lingering effects of childhood bullying and how adults continue to suffer mental, emotional and even financial challenges resulting from the traumatic abuse they endured as children. A new study out of Duke University’s School of Medicine now reveals the link between childhood bullying and physical health problems.
The researchers from Duke conducted the study in collaboration with the University of Warwick, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Emory University. They tracked health factors of 1,420 children from the age of nine to 21 years. Throughout the period, they interviewed the children and their mothers about the kids’ involvement in bullying. They also took blood samples from the children every year or two.
The researchers measured the level of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood samples to determine levels of inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been linked to a host of health problems, from heart disease to cancer. It is present in most disease states and is recognized as a precursor to many diseases.
The level of CRP tends to increase as people age and are exposed to more psychological and physical stressors – let’s face it, life tends to become more demanding as we grow up; however, the group of children who reported experiencing repeated bullying during the study period had higher levels of inflammation than the group of children that did not suffer bullying. Equally disturbing, the kids who reported the most bullying during the study had the highest increase in inflammation.
According to William E. Copeland, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, “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.”
Clearly, a few decades would have to pass to determine if the high levels of the CRP marker leads to a greater presence of inflammation related–diseases in the individuals studied. Yet, the researchers did discover through their interviews that the kids who were bullied were dealing with immediate health problems. They reported a greater number of stomach aches and headaches, more sleep problems and loss of appetite.
As troublesome as this is, these ailments could be warning signs for parents who suspect their kids are being bullied. Once the bullying is addressed, attention can be given to ensuring the long-term physical health impacts are mitigated through proper diet and a healthy school and home environment.
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