Childhood bullying associated with increased risk of psychosomatic problems

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1. Bullied children are more than two times as likely to have psychosomatic problems than their non-bullied counterparts. 

2. Samples that contained proportionally more boys showed a stronger relationship between bullying and psychosomatic problems.

Evidence Rating Level: 1 (Excellent)  

Study Rundown: Previous studies have found childhood bullying to be a risk factor for internalizing problems, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and suicide risk, as well as physical health issues or “psychosomatic problems”, such as headache, backache, abdominal pain, skin problems, dizziness, bedwetting, and sleeping issues. The current meta-analysis updated and expanded upon previous meta-analyses to estimate the risk associated with bullying and psychosomatic problems. Results from this meta-analysis suggest that bullied children are more than two times as likely to have psychosomatic problems when compared to their non-bullied agemates. Furthermore, samples that contained more boys had a greater effect size between bullying and psychosomatic problems. The variability in methods used to assess psychomatic symptoms and bullying experiences across the studies limits these results. Pediatricians and other health care professionals can play an important role in the identification of bullying victims, particularly those who present with psychosomatic symptomatology.

Click to read the study published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Associations between bullying behaviour, psychosomatic complaints, emotional and behavioural problems

Study Author, Dr. Gianluca Gini, PhD, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: Child and Adolescent Social Development and Well-Being Laboratory, Department of Developmental and Social Psychology, University of Padova, Italy. 

“The results of this meta-analysis support the conclusion that bullied children and adolescents suffer from more frequent psychosomatic problems than non-bullied agemates. Our meta-analysis complements the evidences about the poor personal adjustment of bullied pupils, in terms of both internalizing and externalizing problems. Future research should be aimed at elucidating the mechanisms through which bullying affects children’s health. We also call for research that investigates how other environmental factors interact with peer victimization experiences to determine health risk. These results point out the role of pediatricians and school nurses. It is very important that these professionals be ready to identify children who are at risk of being bullied because the potential negative health, psychological, and educational consequences of bullying experiences are far-reaching. Any recurrent and unexplained somatic symptom can be a warning sign of bullying victimization. This should be promptly discussed with parents.”

In-Depth [meta-analysis]: Thirty studies were included in this analysis, six of which were longitudinal studies, while the remaining 24 were cross-sectional studies. A total of 219,560 children and adolescents from 16 countries participated in these studies. Girls made up 50.2% of the participants in the 26 studies that provided gender composition of their samples. Across both the longitudinal samples and the cross-sectional samples, bullied children were at significantly higher risk for psychosomatic problems than their non-bullied counterparts (OR = 2.39 and 2.17, respectively; p < .0001). There was no evidence of publication bias in the 30 studies included in this meta-analysis. Furthermore, the studies’ geographic location or informant type (participant vs. peers or parents) did not change the effect sizes in the cross-sectional studies. However, the magnitude of the effect size was significantly inversely correlated with the study’s proportion of female participants (*B = -0.04; p < .002).

*The B-value is a transformed Z-value, a calculation of conditional power, with more negative values reflecting a stronger inverse relationship.

By Cordelia Y. Ross and Leah H. Carr

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