Children who are popular and wield power among their school classmates enjoy better health as adults, new research has suggested.
The authors of the research based their findings on more than 14,000 children who were born in Sweden in 1953 and who were part of the Stockholm Birth Cohort Study. This tracks the long term health of children born between 1953 and 2003.
The degree of popularity, power, and status enjoyed by each child was assessed when the children reached sixth grade in 1966 and were 12 to 13 years old. This was done by asking them who they most preferred to work with at school.
The answers were then categorised into five status bands: marginalised (no nominations); peripheral (one nomination); accepted (two to three nominations); popular (four to six nominations); and favourite (seven or more nominations)
This information was then matched to data on subsequent hospital admissions for the period between 1973 and 2003, using national hospital discharge records.
Analysis showed that children the furthest down the pecking order at school had the highest overall risk of serious ill health as an adult. The pattern was evident for both men and women, although there were differences in the types of ill health they developed.
Children who were the least popular and powerful at school were more than four times as likely to require hospital treatment for hormonal (including diabetes), nutritional, and metabolic diseases as their most popular and powerful classmates.
And they were more than twice as likely to develop mental ill health and behavioural 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. They were also significantly more likely to develop drug and alcohol dependency problems and nine times more likely to develop ischaemic heart disease. The findings were not explained by childhood social class.
The authors suggest that peer status in childhood is linked to adult health through behavioural and psychological factors that influence the development of disorders and diseases in which these factors feature.
Online First Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, available at: