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Health & Parenting

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Kids Exposed to Bullying, Violence May Age Faster

Study Looks at Effects of Bullying, Violence on DNA

Bullying Scars Run Deep

Bullying and other violence experienced during childhood may cause a physical erosion of DNA, says Paul Thompson, PhD. He is a professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"We now have a physical record that violence during childhood could be damaging later in life," he says. This is a "big surprise."

Victor Fornari, MD, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., says the new findings make perfect sense. "This article really points to a potential biological [indicator] that helps explain some of the differences in the brains of children who have experienced significant trauma and stress," he says.

"It is exciting to have this kind of window into what may be causing significant health problems that traumatized young people have as they grow up," Fornari says. "Chronic maltreatment may have deleterious effects on children's health, brain, and the way in which their brain functions. There is no good evidence to stay that this is reversible."

"It's possible, and likely, that faster telomere shortening in childhood could put us on a more rapid trajectory of aging and early onset of disease as adults," says Elissa Epel, PhD, in an email. She is the AME Laboratory director at the University of California, San Francisco. "The residue of childhood trauma may even manifest decades later, in adults. Now we have some evidence that indeed children's immune system aging can be adversely affected by severe stress early in childhood, a scar that could possibly last decades later. This study underscores the vital importance of reducing violent exposures for children -- both serious bullying and abuse in the family."

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