LONDON – Victims of childhood bullying are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults and have a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses, according to a study by British psychiatrists.
Researchers found that just over a quarter of women who were occasionally or frequently bullied as children were obese at age 45, compared to 19 percent of those who had never been bullied.
And both men and women who were bullied as children had higher levels of fat around their middle -- a known risk factor for heart disease.
"Bullying is bad for your physical health, whether you're a man or a woman," said Andrea Danese, who worked on the study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
Louise Arseneault, who led the research, said its findings should remind teachers, parents and carers to think about the victims, not just worry about how to stop the bullies.
Bullying is characterized by repeated hurtful actions by other children, against which the victims find it difficult to defend themselves, she told reporters. Unfortunately, bullying was "part of growing up for many children", she said.
"We tend to neglect the victims and their suffering," she added. "(Yet) for some children, they will be marked for the rest of their lives."
Arseneault's findings, published on Wednesday in the journal Psychological Medicine, come from the British National Child Development Study which has data on all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958.
It included 7,102 children whose parents gave information on their child's exposure to bullying at age 7 and 11. Some 28 percent had been bullied occasionally and 15 percent were bullied frequently. The children were then followed up at age 45, when measures of blood inflammation and obesity were recorded.
Besides obesity, the results showed that being bullied also led to higher levels of blood inflammation by the age 45.
Some 20 percent of those who were frequently bullied had high levels of a substance called C-reactive protein (CRP). High CRP raises heart disease risk by increasing atherosclerosis, where arteries get clogged up with fatty deposits.
Danese said the effects of childhood bullying on the risk of poor health in adulthood are relatively small compared to factors such as smoking, diet and exercise, but stressed that because obesity and bullying are both common, tackling them could have a significant health impact.