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Feeling loved as a teenager can lead to better health in adulthood

Researchers examined data from nearly 3,500 U.S. high schoolers.

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Feeling loved as a teenager leads to better health in adulthood, according to a new study.

Portrait of beautiful red haired woman with freckled face, shows heart gesture over chest, wears oversized pink jumper, being passionate, express love to close person, stands over blue wall.
Feeling loved as a teenager can improve heart health later in life, the study indicated. (Cast Of Thousands via Shutterstock)

Researchers found that the way adolescents feel about their lives may impact the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke in later life.

Teenagers who reported feeling optimism, happiness, self-esteem, belongingness and love were more likely to reach their twenties and thirties in good cardiometabolic health compared to teens with fewer of these positive psychological assets.

The association was especially strong among Black teenagers, according to the findings.

Previous research has shown that psychological facets of mental well-being - such as optimism and happiness - may be important factors related to better cardiometabolic health over time.

(American Heart Association via SWNS)

While most of that research was conducted among older adults, the new study focused on earlier in life and considered a broader range of health factors, which also included indicators of blood sugar levels and inflammation.

Study lead author Doctor Farah Qureshi said: “We learned a lot in the last few decades about the impact of discrimination and other social risks youth of color face that may explain their elevated rates of cardiometabolic disease.

"However, much less attention is paid to the inherent strengths they possess and the ways those strengths may be leveraged to advance health equity.

“In this study, we wanted to shift the paradigm in public health beyond the traditional focus on deficits to one that concentrates on resource building.”

Funny mother hugging daughters outside. African black ethnicity family love and affection
(True Touch Lifestyle via Shutterstock)

Researchers examined data from nearly 3,500 US high schoolers, with an average age of 16, in 1994, who were followed for more than two decades. Nearly half were girls, and 67 percent were white.

The team regularly collected data on the participants’ health and well-being, with the most recent wave of figures from 2018 when their average age was 38.

Using initial survey responses from when participants were teenagers, researchers identified five mental health assets related to better cardiometabolic health outcomes: optimism, happiness, self-esteem, a sense of belonging and feeling loved.

The information was cross-referenced with health data recorded over three decades to assess whether teenagers who had more of the positive assets were more likely to maintain optimal cardiometabolic health in adulthood.

To examine health in the study, researchers reviewed measures for seven cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk factors collected during clinic visits when participants were in their late 20s and 30s.

The factors included high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol; non-HDL cholesterol – calculated as total cholesterol minus HDL cholesterol; systolic blood pressure; diastolic blood pressure; and body mass index (BMI).

The analysis found that, overall, 55 percent of the teenagers had zero or one positive mental health asset, while 29 percent had two to three assets and 16 percent had four to five assets.

As young adults, only 12 percent of the participants maintained cardiometabolic health over time, and white youngsters were more likely to maintain good health later in life compared to Black or Latino youths.

Teenagers with four to five positive mental health assets were 69 percent more likely to maintain positive cardiometabolic health as young adults.

There was also a cumulative effect, with each additional mental health asset conferring a 12 percent greater likelihood of positive cardiometabolic health.

Although psychological assets were found to be protective across all racial and ethnic groups, the largest health benefits were noted among Black youths.

Black teenagers also reported having more positive mental health assets than youths of any other racial or ethnic group.

However, despite Black youths having the most assets and deriving the most health benefits from them, researchers said that racial disparities in cardiometabolic health were still apparent in adulthood.

Black people were the least likely to maintain good cardiometabolic health over time, according to the findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Qureshi, an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, said: “These somewhat counterintuitive findings were surprising.

“When we dug deeper, we found that the absence of psychological assets being was particularly health-damaging for Black youth.

“For Black youths – who face numerous barriers to achieving and sustaining optimal cardiometabolic health in adulthood – not having these additional mental health resources makes a big difference.”

She added: “This work suggests that early investments in youth mental health may be a critical new frontier in the advancement of cardiometabolic health equity.

“We need more large-scale studies to monitor these and other positive mental health factors starting in childhood to understand how these assets may influence health and disease over the life course.

"This information may help us identify new ways to improve health and reduce disparities.”

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