Bullying Linked With Multitude Of Health Problems Later In Life, Study Shows

A new study shows that victims of childhood bullying are more likely to suffer negative consequences down the line. This itself probably isn’t too surprising, but what is surprising — and disturbing — is just how far-reaching these consequences are.

Cancer, diabetes, unemployment, disability and asthma are all amongst the maladies that bully victims are more likely to face later in life than their non-bullied peers, according to a study published in Psychological Science. William Copeland, a professor at Duke University who co-authored the study, was so struck by the results that he’s declared bullying “a significant public health concern.”

The researchers began the study in 1993, regularly examining the health of 1,273 children in North Carolina. Twenty years later, they analyzed the data and found that those who said they were victims of bullying — about 25 percent of the original sample — were significantly more likely to face numerous health and legal problems down the line.

And we’re not talking a few percentage points more likely, either.

For example, bullied kids are six times (!) more likely to develop cancer or diabetes when they’re older, and four times more likely to ultimately be charged with a felony. They’re also worse off financially and are six times more likely to take up smoking. Oh, and their personal and familial relationships suffer, as well.

"What we saw for them was this really pervasive pattern where they were impaired across a lot of areas," Copeland told NPR. "These kids are continuing to have significant problems in their lives, years after the bullying has stopped.”

Copeland and his colleagues recognized that growing up in a financially unstable home could be a confounding factor — that is, it could independently result in both bullying as a kid and health problems as an adult. But even when the researchers controlled the data to account for this, the correlation remained, suggesting that being a victim of bullying really does have lifelong health consequences.

Earlier this year, Copeland published another study on the long-term psychological effects bullying and found, amongst other things, that bully victims are four times more likely than their non-bullied counterparts to develop anxiety disorders later in life.