The researchers from Umeå University and Stockholm University used data from a long-term study monitoring social relationships and health over 27 years, from age 16 to 43, for over 800 participants. They found that problematic peer relationships in adolescence, as measured through teachers’ assessments, were correlated with all components of metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of metabolic and cardiovascular issues including obesity and high blood pressure, in middle-age.
Results showed a dose-response relationship between peer problems in adolescence and metabolic syndrome in middle-age, corresponding to 36% higher odds for the metabolic syndrome at age 43 for each SD higher peer problems score at age 16. The association remained significant after adjustment for health, health behaviors, school adjustment or family circumstances in adolescence, and for psychological distress, health behaviors or social circumstances in adulthood. In analyses stratified by sex, the results were significant only in women after adjustment for covariates.
The effect was particularly noticeable among females, with the most unpopular and introverted at 16 more than three times as likely to be in bad shape at 43.
The researchers said the results can’t be easily explained why the effect was stronger in females, but suggested it could be because men and women had “different life course pathways”.
Peer problems were significantly related to all individual components of the metabolic syndrome. These results suggest that unsuccessful adaption to the school peer group can have enduring consequences for metabolic health.
Gustafsson PE, Janlert U, Theorell T, Westerlund H, Hammarstro¨m A (2012) Do Peer Relations in Adolescence Influence Health in Adulthood? Peer Problems in the School Setting and the Metabolic Syndrome in Middle-Age. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39385. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039385
For further information, contact:
Per E Gustafsson
Family Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University
Phone: +46 90 7853590