- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

Children and adolescents with diabetes and other hormonal disorders are at an increased risk of being bullied, teased or snubbed by classmates, a new study has found.

The report, published online in the Journal of Pediatrics, found insulin-dependent diabetics particularly vulnerable to peer abuse. It raised concerns that these children might forgo medically necessary procedures such as testing their blood-sugar levels or injecting insulin to avoid being picked on.

“If you know kids may tease you because you have to go to the bathroom to check your blood sugar, or you can’t eat some foods, you might begin avoiding those things,” said Eric Storch, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine.

“The more bullied a child is, the less he checks his blood sugar or adheres to his diet … to reduce the chance of appearing different from his peers,” Mr. Storch said.

Type I diabetes affects about one in every 400 to 500 American children and adolescents, he said.

Thirty-three diabetic youngsters were among a group of 93 children with endocrine, or hormone, disorders surveyed by Mr. Storch and his colleagues. The endocrine system includes the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, the testicles or ovaries and other structures that release hormones to regulate growth, metabolism, sexual maturation and other functions.

The remaining 60 children in the study group included 26 with low thyroid function, 25 with short stature, three with male breast development, three with early puberty and three with late puberty.

The children were between the ages of 8 and 18, with the average age being 13.

During outpatient visits to UF’s pediatric endocrinology clinic, the study subjects completed written surveys about bullying, depression, social anxiety and loneliness. Their parents also filled out a questionnaire about their children’s self-esteem and behavior.

Nearly a third of the children said they had been bullied in the last month. Fear of social situations was the most frequent consequence of bullying, reported by almost 20 percent of the children, Mr. Storch said.

Nearly 8 percent reported significant symptoms of depression, and nearly 6 percent had high levels of loneliness. Among parents and guardians surveyed, 13 percent said their child showed signs of damaged self-esteem as a result of being bullied, and 9 percent said their child was significantly misbehaving.

According to federal health officials, an estimated 15 percent to 25 percent of American children are bullied regularly.

“One of the things I often hear is, ‘Everyone goes through this, why make a big deal of it?’ … The point is if it’s chronic bullying, it’s also distressing,” Mr. Storch said.

Researchers were surprised to learn that children with disorders that affected their appearance, which included early or late puberty, short stature and male breast development, reported fewer problems related to bullying than those with Type I diabetes or low thyroid function, a condition that may not be noticeable.

“It may be these kids (with physical differences) get extra support from peers and teachers that help them cope with the negative peer experience,” Mr. Storch said.

Gary Geffken, the study’s co-author, said he thinks all children with chronic medical conditions could be at heightened risk for being bullied. He said chronic illnesses of all types may require children to see medical specialists and make more visits to the doctor than their peers. This could carry a stigma, said Mr. Geffken, an associate professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and clinical and health psychology at UF.



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