The Mysterious Aches of Bullying

Bullied children experience more unexplained medical concerns than non-bullied children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As bullying receives more attention, researchers are learning more about its possible effects on children. The long-term effects may be more than emotional or psychological. They could be physical as well.

A recent study found that children who were bullied were more likely to experience unexplained medical issues.

These issues could include aches and pains, headaches, stomach aches, dizziness and other concerns that do not appear to have a specific medical explanation.

The researcher reached this conclusion by analyzing a large number of other research studies that investigated this issue.

"Address bullying when you see it."

The study, led by Gianluca Gini, PhD, of the Department of Developmental and Social Psychology at the University of Padua in Italy, looked at the possible effects of bullying on kids' unexplained aches and pains.

The researchers sought out all studies in medical research databases published through April 2012 that dealt with bullying and psychosomatic complaints in children.

Psychosomatic complaints are physical symptoms, such as headache, backache, abdominal pain, skin problems, sleeping problems, bedwetting or dizziness, that do not appear to have any explanation.

The researchers identified a total of 30 studies that met their criteria, including 6 long-term studies and 24 studies that compared two populations at that present time.

The researchers found that being bullied was associated with an increased risk of experiencing psychosomatic problems compared to not being bullied.

The analysis of the six long-term studies revealed that bullied children were 2.4 times more likely to complain of psychosomatic health concerns than non-bullied peers.

The analysis of the other 24 studies revealed that bullied children were 2.2 times more likely to have psychosomatic pains or other complaints.

"Given that school bullying is a widespread phenomenon in many countries around the world, the present results indicate that bullying should be considered a significant international public health problem," the researchers wrote.

The researchers suggested various ways that the problem might begin to be addressed.

"Pediatricians could routinely review the warning signs of bullying with parents to help them identify problems with bullying their child may be experiencing," they wrote.

"Preventive measures can also include counseling parents about bullying experiences as a risk factor for children’s well-being and the importance of promoting development of social skills and assertiveness in their children," they wrote.

The authors suggested that hearing this counseling from pediatricians may carry more weight with parents since parents usually trust their children's doctor.

"Breaking the cycle of victimization through early identification and prompt intervention may prevent persistent physical and mental health problems in children who experience bullying," the researchers wrote.

The study was published September 16 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not use external funding, and the authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 14, 2013
Last Updated:
September 16, 2013