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Bullying can cause long-term damage to child's health

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds bullying can lead to long-term harm to child's physical and mental health.

A new and first-ever study, published online February 17 in the journal Pediatrics, has found that the longer a child experiences bullying, the more likely the child will suffer severe, long-lasting consequences to their mental health.

Researchers from Boston Children’s Division of General Pediatrics conducted the study, which was led by Laura Bogart. She says that their research shows that “long-term bullying” has a major negative impact on a child’s overall health, and the damage typically builds up and gets even more severe over time.

For the study, Bogart and her team followed over 4,000 children and adolescents from between the 5th and 10th grade. The researchers interviewed the group of kids, asking them questions about both their physical and mental health, as well as if they had ever been bullied at any time from the 5th to 10th grade.

The researchers then compared the children and adolescents, classifying them into one of the following four groups: 1) those bullied in both the past and present; 2) those bullied only in the present; 3) those bullied only in the past; and 4) those who have never been bullied.

As a result, the research team found that no matter what the child's age, bullying was associated with a worsening of physical and mental health, including an increase in depression and a decrease in self-esteem.

Worse yet, the students who experienced chronic bullying were also found to have more problems with physical activities, such as playing sports, walking and running.

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Bogart confirmed the team’s finding that ongoing bullying over a period of time had a “severe impact” on both the child’s physical and mental health. She also says that there needs to be more intervention, suggesting that early intervention may reverse some of the accumulating damage that bullying victims suffer.

She added that the sooner an intervention takes place, the sooner a child is stopped from being bullied – and the less chance that bullying will “have a lasting, damaging effect on his or her health down the road."

The importance of early and ongoing intervention for victims of bullying cannot be overstated, as the researchers discovered that the group of children and adolescents who experienced bullying in both the past and present had the lowest overall health scores, with the group of students bullied only in the present coming in second.

Although the kids who had only been bullied in the past had better scores than those bullied in both the past and present, they still had lower overall health scores than the students who had never been bullied, which the research team suggests is due to recent bullying carrying more weight in terms of its negative impact on a child’s health.

By the same token, the researchers point out that the health problems caused by bullying “compound over time” and may even linger long after the bullying has stopped; thus, the research team say the results of the study emphasize the need to stop bullying early on and to continue intervening to help prevent any long-term damage to the victim’s health.

While additional research is needed to fine-tune the best way to prevent bullying and develop effective intervention methods, Bogart notes that there is “no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach”, but she does mention that educating teachers, parents and healthcare professionals with the clear evidence that exists about bullying can better enable them to help kids cope with bullying and perhaps “lessen the damage it causes."

For more information, check out StopBullying.gov, a website operated by the Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Peer Victimization in Fifth Grade and Health in Tenth Grade, Published online February 17, 2014 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2013-3510)



The study showed a correlation (association) but does not prove cause and effect. I believe that bullying does cause low self esteem, but also a child with low self esteem is more likely to be bullied. I wish they had included the attractiveness of the children because I believe their method would then have shown that bullying cause a child to be less attractive. This, of course, is not the case.