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Study: Frequent Nurse Visits Can Identify Bullies, Victims

You might think that a child being harassed at school would end up at the school nurse's office more often—and you'd be right, but a new study suggests bullies are less healthy, too.

A new study published in the May issue of Pediatrics shows both bullies and their victims are more likely to show up in the nurse's office more often than other students, not just for bruises, but for somatic illnesses like headaches, joint pain, stomach aches, and chronic fatigue.

Researchers led by Eric Vernberg, a professor of clinical child psychology and director of the Child and Family Services Clinic at the University of Kansas, compared school nurses' logs with reports from 590 children in grades 3 through 5 about bullying they faced in school, including identifying aggressive children. The researchers found that the more often a child was tagged as an aggressor, the more frequent his or her visits to the nurse's office.

In a statement on the study, Mr. Vernberg suggested that repeated episodes of bullying can be highly emotionally charged and stressful for both sides; over time, these can lead to chronic stress and a reduced immune system.

"It's upsetting for the person involved in that kind of encounter," Mr. Vernberg said. "It's probably going to have some residual feelings such as, 'This was unpleasant. I got in trouble for this. I have a problem with this person that may come up again in the future.' It involves negative emotions."

The results suggest a new way school officials may be able to spot underlying harassment that might not result in outright fighting or trips to the principal's office, and may be more effective to identify relational bullying, such as ostracism and gossip, which school officials have found notoriously difficult to spot.

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