National Edition

The health effects of bullying

Published: Friday, May 16 2014 4:10 a.m. MDT

Austin Stearns a seventh-grader at Robert Stuart Middle School in Twin Falls, Idaho, holds the "Bully Bucket" at the school on Friday May 17, 2013. When a student at the school is bullied, he or she can fill out a form and drop it in. Studies found bullies may have better long-term health, but aggressive children still suffer in other ways.

Ashley Smith, Associated Press

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New research shows bullying can cause negative health effects for victims, while some perpetrators experience some biological benefits.

But experts note those benefits can also be achieved through activities that aren't as harmful to others.

A study from Duke University looked into the biological results of bullying scenarios, since not much work had been done on the long-term physical effects. Researchers found that children who were bullied suffered from higher levels of low-grade inflammation, while those who were bullies showed lower levels of inflammation than those who had never been part of a bullying scenario.

The research team, led by William Copeland, began the study with 1,420 children. The team interviewed the children about their bullying habits, then analyzed the health of the children over the course of their childhood, ages 9-16, and into adulthood, ages 19-21.

The researchers focused on measuring the amount of C-reactive protein in the children's blood streams. The presence of CRP indicates that the individual has inflammation in the body. The inflammation is usually caused by cardiovascular disease, infection or cancer, according to the Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia.

The results of the study showed a strong correlation between bullying scenarios and CRP levels.

"Although CRP levels rose for all participants across this period, being bullied predicted greater increases in CRP levels, whereas bullying others predicted lower increases in CRP compared with those uninvolved in bullying," Dr. Copeland said in the study.

The study found three types of individuals in a bully situation: pure bullies, victims and bully-victims. Pure bullies, those who only bullied others, had the best overall health as they progressed into adulthood; bully-victims, those who responded to their own bullying by bullying others, had the highest levels of CRP.

In contrast to victims of bullying, who experience negative social, psychological and physical effects, "bullies experience few downsides and reap biological advantages of increased social status. Social status and disruptions to one’s status may play a central role in physical health functioning through effects on chronic low-grade inflammation, and these effects may persist for decades," according to the study.

However, bullying others can create other health risk factors.

A study by the Journal of Adolescence reported that "perpetrators of peer aggression were found to be at increased risk of depression and harmful alcohol use." Bullies are also more likely to exhibit criminalistic and violent behavior that can lead to destroyed relationships and jail time.

Bullying is a no-win scenario for the victims and the perpetrators. Other ways to maintain a high social status, and thus low inflammation levels, include athletic activity and academic or professional success.

“Bullying is a way of enhancing social status and achieving success,” Copeland told Reuters. “There are other ways people can enhance social status or success without wreaking havoc on others.”

Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.

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