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Peer group status in late childhood may be linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease – conditions that affect the normal functioning of the heart and blood vessels – in later life, according to a study published in the online journal BMJ Open emerges.
13-year-olds who are not very popular with their classmates appear to be at significantly increased risk.
Family circumstances and living conditions in childhood are important predictors of later mental and physical health. However, it is not entirely clear what impact peer group status could have.
To investigate this further, the researchers looked at whether peer group status in 13-year-olds could be linked to the risk of developing conditions in adulthood that affect normal heart and blood vessels, such as narrowed and hardened arteries and abnormal heartbeat (atrial fibrillation).
They were based on data from the Stockholm Birth Cohort Multi-Generation Study (SBC Multigen), in which all people born in 1953 and resident in the Stockholm area in 1963 participated (n = 14,608).
The health status of 5,410 men and 5,990 women whose peer group status was known by the age of 13 was tracked using data from inpatient care registers until the 1960s.
In order to assess the peer group status, the 13-year-olds were asked who among their classmates they would most like to work with. Four categories were created: zero nominations (marginalized); 1 (low status); 2 or 3 (medium status); and 4 or more (high status).
Information was also gathered on family factors such as the number and position of siblings, parental upbringing and mental health, socio-economic conditions, and academic factors such as intellect, academic achievement, and criminal behavior.
Slightly more boys at the age of 13 had a high peer group status (33%; 1788) than girls (28.5%; 1710). And more of the girls were excluded: 16% (940) versus 12% (652).
Circulatory diseases were more common in men than in women: 18.5% (999) versus 11% (669).
However, marginalization of peer groups at the age of 13 was associated with a significantly 33-34% higher risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood in both sexes.
Compared to boys and girls who were very popular (high peer group status), those who were marginalized by the age of 13 had a significantly higher risk of developing circulatory disease than adults, having seen potentially influential family and academic factors as well considered adult mental health.
Although no longer statistically significant, a graduated association was observed in girls: the less popular they were, the higher the risk of developing circulatory diseases in adulthood.
Children who were medium to high peer group status were still at higher risk of cardiovascular disease later in life than their most popular classmates.
This is an observational study and therefore cannot determine a cause. Childhood peer group status was assessed at a single point in time and little information was available on health and health behavior from childhood to adult life, which may have skewed the results.
However, the researchers write, "Peer relations play an important role in children's emotional and social development and can have significant long-term effects on their health."
They add, "There is compelling neuroscientific evidence of how social relationships modulate neuroendocrine responses that subsequently affect the circulatory system and increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease."
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Childhood peer status and adult cardiovascular disease: a prospective cohort study in Stockholm, Sweden, BMJ Open (2020). DOI: 10.1136 / bmjopen-2019-036095
British Medical Journal
Peer Group Status in Late Childhood Associated with Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in Adults (2020, Sep 15)
accessed on September 15, 2020
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