Thirteen-year-olds who were not very popular with their peers grew up, a new study released Tuesday shows an increased risk of developing circulatory diseases later in life. This includes higher risk of conditions such as narrowed and hardened arteries and abnormal heart rhythm affecting the normal functioning of the heart and blood vessels.
“While not many people are aware of it, peer status is one of the strongest predictors of later psychological and health outcomes, even decades later,” said Mitch Prinstein, John Van Seter’s outstanding professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina.
“Several early studies revealed that our probability among peers in elementary school predicts life outcomes stronger than IQ, parents̵
Prinstein and the authors of the study said it is important to note that peer status is a particular form of popularity – just like being the cool kid.
“Many people might think of children with high status as those who were very visible and influential – hanging out in the smoking area during breaks and parties on the weekends. This is another type of popularity that is sometimes called perceived popularity,” said Ylva Almquist, associate professor and associate professor at the Department of Public Health at Stockholm University and author of the study, which was published in the journal BMJ Open.
“Peer status is rather an indicator of sympathy and the degree to which a child is accepted and respected by their peers.”
In this study from Sweden, the researchers used data from the Stockholm Birth Cohort Multigenerational Study, which includes everyone born in 1953 and living in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, in 1963.
The health of 5,410 men and 5,990 women was tracked in the 60s. At the age of 13, they were asked who among their classmates they preferred to work with. They used the results to determine “peer group status”, which they divided into four categories: zero nominations, which they called “marginalized”; one (“low status”); two or three (“medium status”); and four or more (“high status”).
Thirty-three percent of boys enjoyed high peer group status at age 13, slightly more than girls (28.5%), the researchers found. About 16% of the girls were classified as “marginalized” compared to 12% of the boys.
Circulatory disease was more common among men than it was among women, but children classified as “marginalized” at age 13 had a 33% to 34% higher risk of circulatory disease in adulthood in both sexes, the study found.
In their analysis, the researchers said they took into account factors such as number and position of siblings, parental education and mental health, socioeconomic conditions and school factors such as intellect, academic achievement and any criminal behavior.
But as an observational study, it can only show one link, and Almquist said there could be many explanations for the association.
“A common dilemma in this kind of research is that we have the information we need to establish the link between childhood relationships and adulthood health outcomes, but we know quite a bit about what happens in between,” Almquist said.
Potential for chronic inflammation due to stress
Katherine Ehrlich, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research, said one explanation could be chronic inflammation associated with stressful experiences of relationships, both in adolescence and adulthood.
“It is likely that stressful social experiences (such as being socially isolated) can lead to persistent unresolved inflammation, and if these levels are maintained over time, it can increase one’s risk of plaques in the arteries, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems, “said Ehrlich, who was not involved in the research.
“It seems likely that health behaviors also play a role in the evolution from low peer status to circulatory disorders decades later. People who are socially isolated may be more likely to have unhealthy diets, engage in excessive drinking, and lead sedentary lifestyles.” all of which could also increase the risk of cardiovascular problems. “
“Our species is unique and remarkably adapted to our social position because many years ago we trusted each other for safety,” he said.
“Research now reveals that social rejection activates the same regions of the brain that are known to respond to physical pain, and also expresses dormant DNA to prepare our bodies for imminent harm. Unfortunately, this response is no longer necessary, so the expression of these genes leaves us more vulnerable to viral infections and are more likely to suffer from inflammation-related diseases, “Prinstein said.
He added that it was also possible that those with higher peer status were likely to have opportunities for learning and access to more resources – including those that could promote their health.
“We spend so much time, energy and funding on factors that we believe can improve children’s chances of a happy and successful life, but we have neglected the one factor that is perhaps most important of all: our children’s ability to do well. together with others and perceived as sympathetic, ”he said.
For parents concerned about their children’s social lives, Almquist stressed that problematic experiences with peers do not automatically lead to health problems, and that having caring and supportive parents was a “protective factor.”
Ehrlich agreed that strong bonds between parents and teens could act as a buffer against problematic peer relationships. “It is understandable to see these findings and worry about the long-term consequences for teenagers who may be more socially isolated.
“In addition, many young people are struggling at some point with their peer relationships – they have a hard time fitting in or ‘finding their people’,” she said. “The advice I want to give families is: Keep trying. Join new clubs, try meeting people online, put yourself out there – you never know who might turn out to be a lifelong friend.”