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Research Review

Focused, Happier Kids Grow Up to Be Healthier Adults

Children who can stay focused and don’t sweat the small stuff have a better shot at good health in adulthood—and this is especially true for girls, according to a new study reported in Health Psychology.

“Certain characteristics already evident early in life are likely to spark positive or negative emotions, and also influence biological and behavioral responses to stress,” says lead author Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health. “Some traits may contribute to developing healthier behaviors and better social relationships, and ultimately more resilience in midlife.

Kubzansky and coauthors tracked 569 individuals (60% men, 40% women; 80% white, 20% black) from the National Collaborative Perinatal Project from age 7 to their mid-30s to see if certain personality traits influenced later health. Trained observers rated the 7 year olds on 15 different behaviors. These behaviors were then assigned to three different personality attributes: attention, distress-proneness, and behavior inhibition.

To determine adult health, the participants rated their health and reported whether they had any of the following illnesses: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, stroke, bleeding ulcer, tuberculosis, or hepatitis.

For all the participants, superior attention spans and having a more positive outlook in youth affected health the most. These effects were greater for women, the researchers found. The authors suggested that women may be more sensitive to interactions among emotion, behavior and biology and, therefore, be more predisposed to certain health risks, such as heart disease, although additional research is needed to understand this more completely.

“This longitudinal study provides more evidence that behavior and emotions generally linked to certain temperaments play a crucial role in long-term health,” Kubzansky said.

— Source: American Psychological Association