Being bullied as a teen may be linked with health problems in adulthood, according to a Canadian study. Difficulties such as headaches, insomnia, and poor body image may persist for years due to bullying, even only verbal bullying.
The study followed 662 young people for a decade starting when they were between 12 and 19 years old. It found that both physical and emotional bullying was linked with health issues such as headaches, dizziness, backaches, insomnia, abdominal pain, and poor body image. Even verbal taunting could lead to physical health problems in adulthood, the researchers reported.
Prevous studies have linked bullying by peers to eventual chronic physical health problems, the authors note. Bullying during adolescence can be particularly serious because teens tend to depend on peers for self-esteem.
In this study, researchers at the University of Victoria in British Columbia analyzed data from six interviews of teens that were done between 2003 and 2014. Participants were asked questions on how often they were pushed or shoved by peers and how often peers spread lies about them. Physical symptoms were assessed by asking the teens to rate how frequently they experienced problems such as headaches, dizziness, and insomnia. To monitor body image, they rated how regularly they noticed they were physically healthy or felt particularly proud or uncomfortable with their body's development.
Over the course of the study, between 29% to 52% of the boys and 20% to 29% of girls reported being physical bullying at least sometimes. Between 28% and 67% of boys and 37% to 54% of girls said they were victims of emotional taunts at least some of the time. Up to 2 percent of participants reported they were bullied all of the time, the study found.
Physical health problems were consistently tied to emotional taunts, but the link between physical bullying and physical problems was less consistent. This may be due to fewer instances of this type of victimization among older teens. Girls reported more physical symptoms and poorer body image than boys throughout the study period.
One limitation of the study is that physical health problems could make teens the target of bullies, rather than health problems being the result of bullying. However, the authors concluded that the findings highlight the need for more efforts to prevent bullying during adolescence and offer therapy or other needed treatments to victims.