Studies Link Bullying and Diabetes

Studies Link Bullying and Diabetes
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By: Helga Luest and Susan Swearer, Professor with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Co-Director of the Bullying Research Network

A recent large study in Scandinavia links bullying and violence at work with a 46 percent increase risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The multinational study found that one in ten employees reported bullying or violence, or threats of harm at work. This is significant because the study found that certain occupations with “frequent client contact” were at higher risk: Social workers (46%), healthcare professionals (25%), and teachers (16%). All of these professionals may be present in a school setting – especially if there are school-based health or mental health centers.

How is Bullying Related?

Researchers point to adverse childhood experiences and how they may cause a unique stress response that increases the risk for diabetes. Some other responses to bullying and violence, like depression, anxiety, and difficulty getting quality sleep could contribute to diabetes risk. Comfort eating could also be a contributing factor.

In another study recently published in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications, found that regardless of gender, child trauma – including verbal abuse – could increase type 2 diabetes in adulthood by 57 percent. The study also pointed to some other contributing factors like physical abuse having a parent with mental health problems.

Both studies make the link between adverse childhood experiences – like bullying – and increased risk for type 2 diabetes, which makes prevention even more important. This research also shows that bullying is not just a problem for children, but can impact health across the lifespan.

School-Based Prevention that Helps

School-based approaches like social-emotional learning, empathy building, and trauma-sensitive schools all work to improve how both teachers and students feel in and about school. Everyone benefits from skills learned like understanding and managing emotions, showing empathy for others, having positive and supportive relationships, and making responsible decisions. These approaches reduce bullying by building positive relationships among students and teachers. They also improve academic success, reduce behavior problems and emotional unrest, and promote positive social behavior. This kind of culture shift not only benefits students, but teachers and other school employees as well. These stress-reducing efforts will last well into adulthood and are life-long skills that will improve health and mental health.

About the Author

Helga Luest currently works for a government contractor and manages a number of federal projects related to behavioral health, trauma, and violence prevention. She is currently running for Maryland State Delegate in District 18. In 2016 she was appointed to the Maryland Governor’s Family Violence Council and she serves on the U.S. Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus Advisory Group. Helga also serves on the board of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice, a national nonprofit advancing the transformation of trauma informed practices throughout the United States. In 2010 she was awarded the Congressional Unsung Hero Award for her effective advocacy work on violence prevention and response. In her free time, Helga facilitates two social media groups called Trauma Informed where advocates, survivors, researchers, and other contribute content and commentary on issues related to trauma, prevention, and resilience - on Facebook & LinkedIn.

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