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AMA report calls for action on bullying

By
ED SUSMAN, UPI Science News

CHICAGO, June 19 (UPI) -- Doctors must be alert for signs and symptoms of bullying among children because the impact can have long-term mental health consequences, a report unanimously adopted Wednesday by the American Medical Association's House of Delegates recommended.

The report on bullying, prepared by the AMA's Council on Scientific Affairs, said 7 percent to 15 percent of school-age populations are bullies, and 10 percent are victims of bullies.

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Dr. Joseph Riggs, a gynecologist in Haddonfield, N.J., and a member of the AMA Board of Trustees, related his first-hand experience with bullying. "When I was in fifth grade, my older brother was being bullied by an eighth grader and I didn't like that so I went after him -- even though he was a foot taller," Riggs related at the annual meeting of the AMA's House of Delegates, the policy-making body of the organization.

The encounter did not go well at first, Riggs said, remembering the older child was pummeling him when he landed a lucky punch, bloodying the bully's nose and effectively ending the fight.

"That happened 50 years ago," Riggs said, "but I remember it like it was yesterday. It shows that these bullying attacks affect you for a long time."

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The well-received report stated: "Without intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional and legal problems. Studies of successful anti-bullying programs are scarce in the United States, but ... adopting a comprehensive approach in schools can change student behaviors and attitudes and increase adults' willingness to intervene."

Dr. Ronald Davis, a preventive medicine specialist from Detroit and another trustee of the AMA, said the goal of the bullying report and the recommendations that go with it attempt to change attitudes towards bullying -- such as the idea "that it is just part of growing up."

Davis said bullying has been tied to tragedies such as the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.

"We are urging doctors to be vigilant in looking for signs of bullying among their (pediatric) patients so that proper psychiatric counseling for the victims and their families can be initiated if necessary," he said.

Riggs suggested not only doctors must be on guard to protect children from bullying or being bullied, but parents, educators and coaches must intervene in bullying at schools, on playing field, in clubs and in camp setting.

"We also have to be careful about verbal bullying or relational aggression," Davis said, "often practiced by young girls who try to wreck other girls' relationships. That can be harmful as well."

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