WASHINGTON – A new study finds that the victims of bullying may be at a higher risk of disease as adults but bullies seem to be protected from the same health conditions.
William Copeland, a lead of the author of the study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tells WTOP that the emotional scars of bullying can last into adulthood for its victims. But scientists wanted to know whether it also affected their health years later.
They studied a specific protein, which is a marker for inflammation. The inflammation can signal a risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Bully victims had higher levels of the protein as adults, and Copeland says, “this suggests that there may be some sort of additional health risk and down the road there may be health complications related to that early childhood experience.”
But bullies had smaller amounts of the protein, implying that their behavior not only gave them social status but also the biological advantage of better health, Copeland says.
“This was surprising to us on a number of levels,” Copeland says of the findings. “The bullies that we followed up actually had the lowest levels of inflammation in adulthood, even lower than those people who weren’t involved in bullying. What that seems to suggest is that protective effect of that experience on their inflammation levels. They were actually doing well health-wise.”
The protein levels are also affected by poor diet, lack of sleep and infections. And the higher levels of victims are similar to those of children who suffered child abuse or other traumas.
More than 14 hundred boys and girls ages 9 through 21 were interviewed at least nine times from childhood and adolescence to young adulthood.
But Copeland says bullies can and should find other ways of gaining health without wreaking havoc on others.