Somewhat related to my previous post, at least in terms of examining the power of social influence, a 30-year follow-up study of 14,000 people born in Stockholm, Sweden has found that “children who are popular and exert power among their school classmates enjoy better health as adults” (source).
Ylva Almquist authored the research report for the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, titled “Peer status in school and adult disease risk: A 30-year follow-up study of disease specific morbidity in a Stockholm cohort.” From the extended abstract:
Background: Children have a social status position of their own, apart from that of the family, that may have an impact on short-term and long-term health. The aim of the present study was to analyse the associations between childhood social status in school, i.e. peer status, and disease-specific morbidity in adulthood.
Methods: Data was derived from a longitudinal study using a 1953 cohort born in Stockholm, Sweden: The Stockholm Birth Cohort Study (1953-2003). Peer status was sociometrically assessed in 6th grade (1966). Hazard ratios for adult disease-specific morbidity based on information on in-patient care (1973-2003) were calculated by peer status category for men and women separately, using Cox regression.
Results: The results indicate that the lower the childhood peer status, the higher the overall adult disease risk. There were however differences in the degree and magnitude to which disease-specific in-patient care varied with peer status. Some of the steepest gradients were found for mental and behavioural disorders (e.g. alcohol abuse and drug dependence), external causes (e.g. suicide) and various lifestyle-related diseases (e.g. ischaemic heart disease and diabetes). The results were not explained by childhood social class.
Conclusion: The present study underscores the importance of recognizing children’s social position, apart from that of their family, for later health. Not only psychologically related diseasesbut also those related to behavioural risk factors demonstrate some of the largest relative differences by peer status, suggesting that health-related behaviour may be one important mechanism in the association between peer status and morbidity.
Medical News Today has a fantastic article summarizing Almquist’s research:
Researchers reviewed more than 14,000 children who were born in Sweden in 1953 and who were part of the Stockholm Birth Cohort Study. This monitors the long term health of children born between 1953 and 2003.
When the children reached sixth grade in 1966 and were 12 to 13 years old, the degree of popularity, power, and status enjoyed by each child was evaluated. It was assessed by asking them who they most preferred to work with at school.
The answers were then ranked into five status bands:
• marginalized (no nominations)
• peripheral (one nomination)
• accepted (two to three nominations)
• popular (four to six nominations)
• favorite (seven or more nominations)
Using national hospital discharge records, this information was then matched to data on subsequent hospital admissions for the period between 1973 and 2003.
Investigation revealed that children who were the least popular at school had the highest overall risk of serious health illness as an adult. The pattern was obvious for both men and women. But there were differences in the types of health illness they developed.
Children who were the least accepted and dominant 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.
In addition, they were more than twice as likely to develop mental illness and behavioral problems, including suicide attempts and self harm.
They were more than five times as likely to be admitted for unintentional poisoning, while those classified as “peripheral” were more than seven times as likely to require hospital care for this same event.
They were also considerably more likely to develop drug and alcohol addiction problems and nine times more likely to develop ischaemic heart disease.
Childhood social class was not considered in the account of the findings.
The authors suggest that “peer status in childhood is linked to adult health through behavioral and psychological factors that influence the development of disorders and diseases in which these factors feature.”