The health benefits of being a cool kid

The results of a new Swedish study find that popularity as a teenager is correlated with long-term health. The findings show that those who reported lower levels of social status in adolescence were at a higher risk for health problems as an adult.

The research team used data from The Stockholm Birth Cohort Study, a longitudinal study that followed 14,000 children born in 1953 until the year 2003. The research team examined the levels of popularity reported by the participants who were in sixth grade in 1966. Then, using mainly hospital discharge records, the researchers compared the participants’ health over a period of 30 years (from 1973 to 2003) to the earlier reported levels of social status.

Here are the findings according to HealthDay News:

  • Children who were the least popular and powerful at school were more than four times as likely to require hospital treatment for hormonal, nutritional and metabolic diseases as their most popular and powerful classmates.
  • They were more than twice as likely to develop mental health and behavioral problems, including suicide attempts and self-harm.
  • They were more than five times as likely to be admitted for unintentional poisoning.
  • They were also significantly more likely to develop drug and alcohol dependency problems, and nine times more likely to develop heart disease.

Ylva Almquist, lead study author, and her team have developed theories as to why social status seems to have an effect on long-term health. They hypothesize that it is most likely a combination of several factors, explaining that low social status can lead to lower self-esteem which could then influence future choices. Almquist says:

“For example, health behaviors such as smoking may be a relevant explanation as to why peer status influences ischemic heart disease. Stress and coping abilities may also be potentially important aspects.”

It’s important, of courser, to remember that cause and association are not the same. In fact, it could be that kids who are depressed or have that tendency also have more difficulty fitting in with the crowd.  According to The Guardian:

“Another theory is that more popular people can draw on more resources throughout their lives, perhaps by earning more money, or getting more help from friends.”

The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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