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Bullying is Becoming a Public Health Issue

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

A new study in the March issue of Pediatrics relates to bullying. This study was done in Italy, but the data was gathered from 150,000 children and adolescents from several countries around the world. They found that bullies and their victims had an increased risk for somatic symptoms. I often see children with frequent complaints of headaches, tummy aches, the “weak and dizzies”, sleep problems and fatigue. In many of these cases I cannot find organic reasons for their distress, in other words, both their physical exam and laboratory tests are negative. Somatic symptoms and complaints are common in all of us at times, and are often stress related. Many times they resolve spontaneously and we don’t give them a second thought. For some children these symptoms become persistent and pervasive, and interrupt their daily lives.

When examining a child with frequent headaches, or tummy aches etc., I routinely inquire about family life, school and friends in general. Some of the children seem baffled as to why I might want to know about these things. Many children, when given the opportunity, will discuss their daily activities, in great detail. During the course of the conversation it may become evident what is bothering a child, besides the tummy ache they came in for. Astute older children will sometimes figure out the problem themselves when given enough time for conversation. They may turn to you and say, ” I think I may be stressed-out due to ‘fill in the blank’”. That is a true Ah-Ha moment.

I have not routinely asked about bullying, but this article points out that bullying has become a significant public health issue, and that physicians need to question children and their parents about the possibility of bullying occurring. This is another great topic for parents to address with their children, beginning at young ages. Bullying seems to be happening to younger and younger children. Remember too that bullying may not only occur in person, but is often done on the Internet, on the cell phone or via text.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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