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Social Status as a Teen Predicts Health as an Adult
Date:9/29/2009

  • 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.
  • Almquist said she is not sure why low social status has such noticeable and long-term health consequences, but there are theories.

    "Most likely it is a combination of various aspects," she said. "Our hypothesis is that lower peer status is linked to less social support, influence and integration, which could result in a more negative self-image and self-confidence. This could in turn influence the child's future ambitions, expectations and choices. 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."

    Kiti Freier Randall, a pediatric neurodevelopmental psychologist from California, said there is a growing body of evidence pointing to the negative consequences of social isolation.

    "Our experience of low power and status affects our self-esteem," she said. "How you feel about yourself affects your health. In many ways, we are hardwired to connect with others."

    Stress physically harms the body, said Freier Randall, who added that people who feel bad often try to comfort themselves with potentially self-destructive behaviors, such as smoking, over-eating and substance abuse.

    Freier Randall was also intrigued with the British study that looked at the behavioral impact of mothers working outside the home. To her, the issue is less about moms, who often have no choice but to work, than about the lack of overall adult supervision of young people, especially after school.

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