Bullying is a public health issue in Canada: researcher
CBC News, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada's largest TV and radio network, November 20, 2009
Bullying should be considered a public health problem and governments should adopt national strategies to deal with it, says a Canadian psychology professor who led a study of bullying in 40 countries.
The study, led by Wendy Craig of Queen's University, involved more than 202,000 children aged 11 to 15 in North America, Europe and Israel. It was published this month in the International Journal of Public Health.
The study compared recent estimates of the prevalence of bullying among adolescents across countries using standard measures, something that had not been done before.
It found that countries with established anti-bullying campaigns had the lowest bullying rates.
Treating bullying as a public health issue "is the new belief, given the long-term costs personally, including mental health, physical, academic, employment, crime, etc.," Craig told CBC News in an email interview Friday. "With the current prevalence, it is the approach that is needed. "
"Also, there is now growing recognition that the problem does not [just] happen at schools. It happens in communities, recreation centres, on sports teams and in cyberspace."
Many countries in Northern Europe have had anti-bullying programs in place for years, and of eight countries with the lowest bullying rates, four were Scandinavian. Sweden had the best results with 8.6 per cent of boys and 4.8 per cent of girls reporting they'd been bullied in the past two months.
The other seven nations with notably low bullying rates were Hungary, Norway, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, the Czech Republic and Wales.
Lithuania appeared most brutal, with 45.2 per cent of boys and 35.8 per cent of girls saying they'd been bullied.
Canada ranked in the middle, placing 21st for boys and 26th for girls. Researchers interviewed 2,744 Canadian boys and found 23.3 per cent reported being bullied. Of 3,051 girls polled, 17 per cent said they'd been bullied.
The survey is considered to have a 95 per cent likelihood of being accurate within three percentage points.
Variations between countries "may reflect important cultural and social differences or differences in the implementation of national policy and programs," the researchers said in the study.
"For example, in countries where the prevalence was relatively low (mainly Scandinavian) there are national programs in place to address bullying, whereas in the countries with the highest prevalence (eastern European) there are no countrywide national campaigns."
Canada does not have a national anti-bullying strategy, Craig said. The problem is tackled in a piecemeal fashion, although a national organization, PREVNet, is trying to deal with the issue. The group's website features links to stories and programs that deal with bullying.