SYDNEY, June 15 - Data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health involving more than 16,000 participants shows that, in 2013, 53 per cent of women aged 18 - 23 reported having been bullied in the past, and 18 per cent said they had been bullied recently. 

Compared with women who hadn't been bullied, those who were victims had lower levels of education and were less likely to be studying or employed.

In terms of health outcomes, a third of women bullied at school were either overweight or obese, compared to 25 per cent of women never bullied.

Bullied women were also more likely to report fair or poor general health and very high levels of psychological distress - 42 per cent versus 21 per cent, according to the analysis conducted by University of Newcastle researchers.

"The high prevalence of bullying among this broadly representative sample of young women is concerning, particularly given the associations found between bullying and health, health risk behaviours, suicidal ideation and self-harm," wrote the authors of the University of Newcastle study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

The researchers say the findings highlight the need for interventions for women who have already experienced bullying and are past school age.

"With more than one-third of young women indicating they have experienced bullying, the importance of bullying prevention cannot be overstressed," they wrote.

"Strong associations with health risk behaviours, poor health and life-threatening psychological health problems indicate the need for comprehensive follow-up support programs for women who have experienced bullying."

They also say more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of current anti-bullying prevention programs.