by Amy Norton
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11, 2023 (HealthDay News) — When teens feel good about themselves and their lives, it may also do their hearts good in the long run, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that teens who felt generally happy, optimistic and loved showed better heart health in their 20s and 30s, compared to kids who lacked that level of mental well-being.
Overall, they were more likely to maintain a healthy weight, as well as normal blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. And having these kinds of positive emotions appears to be especially important for the future health of black teens.
The idea that children’s well-being can affect their health well into adulthood is nothing new. Studies have shown that childhood obesity, for example, is associated with increased risks of various health conditions later in life, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
And the links go beyond physical factors: Adults who experienced childhood hardships like abuse and neglect also have an increased risk of heart disease and other diseases.
Experts said the new study asked a different question: Are there any positive psychological “assets” that may help protect children’s physical health in the long run?
“One of the things that strikes me is that we really don’t have control over the ‘good things’ that kids get in their lives,” said lead researcher Farah Qureshi, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of thought. are essential for supporting cardiometabolic health.” Public Health, in Baltimore.
To investigate the question, his team examined data from a national health study that enrolled nearly 3,500 American high school students in the 1990s and followed them for more than two decades.
Initially, students answered questions that gauged five psychological traits: happiness; hope about the future; high self-esteem; feeling socially accepted; Feeling loved and wanted.
The bad news: More than half the kids — 55% — had none or only one of those positive feelings.
But when they had four or five of these properties, they were about 69% more likely to maintain good cardiovascular health at age 30 than their peers. This was along with many other factors – such as family income, parents’ education and children’s body weight – that were taken into account.
What’s more, those positive feelings seemed to be especially important for black teens. When they didn’t, they were highly unlikely to be in good cardiovascular health 20 years later: only 6% were.
Why, Qureshi said, is that the way children feel about themselves and their lives can influence their health behaviors.
She said that it’s hard to exercise regularly and eat healthy. But if you feel good about yourself and the future, that’s a good motivator.
Adrienne Kovacs, a volunteer specialist with the American Heart Association, agreed.
“When we’re optimistic, for example, we expect that we’re going to be able to handle a situation, so we behave accordingly,” says clinical and health psychologist Equilibria Psychological Health in Toronto. Kovacs said.
Kovacs said it could be the difference between believing or not believing that you can change an unhealthy habit.
In addition, both experts said, psychological factors such as chronic stress can have direct physical effects on the body.
Kovacs said the new study is a reminder that “we need to broaden our concept of cardiovascular risk factors.” And it should start early in life, he said.
In line with previous research, this study found that an unfortunately small number of participants maintained good heart health into their late 30s: just 12% overall.
But having psychological assets in adolescence reinforced those barriers. Meanwhile, the lack of those positive feelings seemed to be particularly harmful for black teens: In the study group with one or no psychological assets, only 6% of black children were in good cardiovascular health in adulthood, versus 12% of their white counterparts. Vs.
This implies that supporting the mental well-being of adolescents is a matter of health equity, both experts said.
Qureshi said that for black teens who face the chronic stress of structural racism, a strong sense of self-esteem, feeling a sense of belonging and love can be especially important.
Parents certainly can support those sentiments, Qureshi and Kovacs said. But so can any adult in the child’s life, as well as schools, community programs, and society at large. As an example, Kovacs pointed to the health care system, which “could do a better job of creating an environment where everyone feels like they belong.”
For families, Qureshi said, supporting children’s mental well-being “is like sitting down together at dinner and asking them how they’re doing — those are things we can count on.”
The study was published online on January 11 Journal of the American Heart Association.
The American Heart Association recommends maintaining good health throughout life.
SOURCES: Farah Qureshi, ScD, MHS, assistant professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.; Adrienne Kovacs, PhD, volunteer specialist, American Heart Association, Dallas, and clinical and health psychologist, Equilibria Psychological Health, Toronto; Journal of the American Heart Association, January 11, 2023, Online