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Open Access Research article

Exploring the relationship between cyberbullying and unnatural child death: an ecological study of twenty-four European countries

King-wa Fu1, Chung-hong Chan1 and Patrick Ip2*

Author Affiliations

1 Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong, Room 121, Eliot Hall, Pokfulam, Road, Hong Kong, SAR, China

2 Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, SAR, China

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BMC Pediatrics 2014, 14:195  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-14-195

Published: 30 July 2014



Internet risk has been recognised as a child safety problem, but evidence is insufficient to conclude that a child’s online risk exposure can lead to physical harm. This study aims to explore the ecological relationship between Internet risk exposure and unnatural child death.


Multiple secondary data sources were used: online exposure to content about self-harm, cyberbullying, and Internet addiction data (EU Kids Online survey, 2010); and mortality data (European Detailed Mortality Database, 2010 or the latest year if not available) of 24 European countries. Correlations were found using quasi-Poisson regression. Countries’ prevalence rates of psychiatric problems (European Social Survey Round 3 and 6, 2006 and 2012) were used to test for possible spuriousness.


This study finds that countries with higher rates of cyberbullying were more likely to have a higher incidence of unnatural child death. A 1 percent rise in the prevalence of cyberbullying translated into a 28% increase in risk of unnatural child death (95% CI: 2%-57%). No evidence was found to substantiate confounding effect of the national prevalence of depressive symptoms or traditional bullying.


Explanations are given for the findings. We conclude that intervention programs designed to serve as precautionary measures for risk minimisation should be considered.

Child mortality; Europe; Internet; Cyberbullying; Statistics and numerical data