Bullying in childhood linked to health risk in adulthood

Study finds men who were bullies in childhood were more likely to smoke cigarettes, use marijuana, and be aggressive and hostile.
By Amy Wallace   |   May 9, 2017 at 10:33 AM

May 9 (UPI) -- Being a bully or the victim of bullying in childhood can have long-lasting impacts on physical and mental health into adulthood, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.

Researchers tracked more than 300 American men from first grade through their early 30s to show that being the victim of bullying or being a bully were both linked to negative outcomes in adulthood.

Study participants were part of the Pittsburgh Youth Study, a longitudinal study of boys enrolled in Pittsburgh public schools in 1987 and 1988 starting when the boys were in first grade. More than half of participants were black and 60 percent of their families were on public financial assistance.

Men who were bullies during childhood were more likely to smoke cigarettes, use marijuana, have stressful experiences, and be aggressive or hostile based on interviews in follow-ups more than 20 years later. Conversely, men who were the victims of bullying in childhood had more financial problems, felt more unfairly treated by others and were less optimistic about their future at the follow-up.

The results show that the roles of bully and victim appeared to continue through adulthood, however, both groups of men had negative health impacts such as risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other life-threatening diseases from their experiences in childhood.

"The long term effects of bullying involvement are important to establish," Karen A. Matthews, psychology researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a press release. "Most research on bullying is based on addressing mental health outcomes, but we wished to examine the potential impact of involvement in bullying on physical health and psychosocial risk factors for poor physical health."

Researchers analyzed data from children, parents and teachers on bullying behavior when participants were between age 10 and 12, in addition to conducting regular assessments on psychosocial, behavioral and biological risk factors for poor health.

Neither bullying nor being bullied in childhood was linked to inflammation or metabolic syndrome in adulthood.

"The childhood bullies were still aggressive as adults and victims of bullies were still feeling like they were treated unfairly as adults," Matthews said. "Both groups had a lot of stress in their adult lives -- so the impact of childhood bullying lasts a long time."

The study was published in Psychological Science.

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