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Bullying involvement in primary school and common health problems


AIMS To examine the association of direct (e.g. hitting) and relational (e.g. hurtful manipulation of peer relationships) bullying experience with common health problems.

METHODS A total of 1639 children (aged 6–9 years) in 31 primary schools were studied in a cross sectional study that assessed bullying with a structured child interview and common health problems using parent reports. Main outcome measures were common physical (e.g. colds/coughs) and psychosomatic (e.g. night waking) health problems and school absenteeism.

RESULTS Of the children studied, 4.3% were found to be direct bullies, 10.2% bully/victims (i.e. both bully and become victims), and 39.8% victims. Direct bully/victims, victims, and girls were most likely to have physical health symptoms (e.g. repeated sore throats, colds, and coughs). Direct bully/victims, direct victims, and year 2 children were most likely to have high psychosomatic health problems (e.g. poor appetite, worries about going to school). Pure bullies (who never got victimised) had the least physical or psychosomatic health problems. No association between relational bullying and health problems was found.

CONCLUSIONS Direct bullying (e.g. hitting) has only low to moderate associations with common health problems in primary school children. Nevertheless, health professionals seeing children with repeated sore throat, colds, breathing problems, nausea, poor appetite, or school worries should consider bullying as contributory factor.

Key messages

Key messages

  • Bullying is widespread among primary school children. Many bullies are also victims of bullying

  • At primary school age, the effects of bullying on health and school absenteeism are less strong than reported for secondary school children

  • “Pure” bullies are healthier children compared to victims and bully/victims, suggesting that they have a constitution that allows them to be dominant in inappropriate ways

  • Health professionals seeing children with repeated sore throat, colds and coughs, breathing problems, nausea, poor appetite or worries about going to school should consider bullying as contributory factor

  • bullying
  • health problem
  • primary school

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