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Optimism and Social Support Predict Healthier Adult Behaviors Despite Socially Disadvantaged Childhoods

  • Amy L. NonEmail author
  • Jorge Carlos Román
  • Elizabeth S. Clausing
  • Stephen E. Gilman
  • Eric B. Loucks
  • Stephen L. Buka
  • Allison A. Appleton
  • Laura D. Kubzansky
Full length manuscript

Abstract

Background

Studies have shown adverse effects of a disadvantaged childhood on adult health-promoting behaviors and related outcomes. Optimism and social support have been linked to greater likelihood of engaging in healthy behavior, but it is unclear whether these positive psychosocial factors may buffer harmful effects of early adversity. This study aims to determine if optimism and social support in adulthood can modify effects of childhood disadvantage on health behavior-related outcomes.

Methods

Longitudinal data were analyzed from a subset of participants in a US birth cohort established in 1959–1966 (ns of 681–840, per outcome). An index of childhood social disadvantage was derived from adverse socioeconomic and family stability factors reported by mothers at child’s birth and age 7 years. Health behavior-related outcomes were self-reported when participants were of mean age 47 years. Multivariable adjusted robust Poisson regressions were performed.

Results

Regardless of level of childhood social disadvantage, we found higher levels of optimism and social support were both associated with higher probabilities of being a non-smoker (relative risk [RR]optimism = 1.17, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.09–1.26; RRsocial support = 1.24, 95%CI = 1.11–1.39), having a healthy diet (RRoptimism = 1.25, 95%CI = 1.10–1.43; RRsocial support = 1.27, 95%CI = 1.04–1.56), and a healthy body mass index (RRoptimism = 1.18, 95%CI = 1.00–1.40; RRsocial support = 1.29, 95%CI = 1.00–1.66). Interactions link higher optimism or social support with lower risk of smoking among those with moderate childhood disadvantage.

Conclusions

Overall, these findings are consistent with the possibility that positive psychosocial resources contribute to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in mid-adulthood and may buffer effects of childhood social disadvantage.

Keywords

Health behaviors Optimism Social support Psychosocial factors Social disadvantage 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The authors thank all study participants.

Funding Information

This work was supported by the National Institute of Aging (RC2AG036666, R01AG048825, and R01AG023397) and the Intramural Research Program of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Math and StatisticsSan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA
  3. 3.Social and Behavioral Sciences Branch, Division of Intramural Population Health ResearchEunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human DevelopmentRockvilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Mental HealthJohns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  5. 5.Department of EpidemiologyBrown University School of Public HealthProvidenceUSA
  6. 6.Department of Epidemiology and BiostatisticsUniversity at Albany School of Public HealthRensselaerUSA
  7. 7.Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public HealthBostonUSA

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