Optimism and Social Support Predict Healthier Adult Behaviors Despite Socially Disadvantaged Childhoods
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.
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.
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.
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.
KeywordsHealth behaviors Optimism Social support Psychosocial factors Social disadvantage
The authors thank all study participants.
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.
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