Being a childhood bully can seriously harm your health as a grownup
Childhood bullying may lead to long-lasting health consequences, including heart health, well into adulthood.
A study has tracked a diverse group of over 300 American men from the age of seven through to their early thirties and the findings indicate that both being a victim of bullying and being a bully are linked to negative health outcomes in later life.
The study, published in Psychological Science, showed that men who were bullies during childhood were more likely to smoke cigarettes and use marijuana, to experience stressful circumstances, and to be aggressive and hostile more than 20 years later.
Men who were bullied as children, on the other hand, tended to have more financial difficulties, felt more unfairly treated by others, and were less optimistic about their future two decades later. Psychologist Karen Matthews says the long term effects of bullying involvement are important,
"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 risk factors for poor physical health."
Past research has linked risk factors like stress, anger, and hostility to increased chances of health problems such as heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure. Because bullying leads to stressful exchanges for both the perpetrators and targets, Matthews and her colleagues believed that both bullies and bullying victims might be at higher risk of poor health outcomes related to stress.
The research team recruited participants from the Pittsburgh Youth Study, a long-term study of 500 boys enrolled in Pittsburgh public schools in 1987 and 1988, when the boys were in first class. The team successfully recruited over 300 of the original study participants to complete questionnaires on psychosocial health factors such as stress levels, health history, diet and exercise, and their financial status. Around 260 of the men came into the lab for blood draws, cardiovascular and inflammation assessments, and height and weight measurements.
The findings showed that the boys who engaged in more bullying in childhood tended to be more aggressive and were more likely to smoke in adulthood, risk factors for heart disease and other life-threatening diseases. The boys who were bullied tended to have lower incomes, more financial difficulties, and more stressful life experiences. They also perceived more unfair treatment relative to their peers.
"The childhood bullies were still aggressive as adults and victims of bullies were still feeling like they were treated unfairly as adults," Matthews explained. "Both groups had a lot of stress in their adult lives - so the impact of childhood bullying lasts a long time!"
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