The study tracked more than 14,000 children born in Sweden in 1953. They were followed through 2003. When the children were in sixth grade, they were assessed for their degree of popularity, power and social status. The information was matched to data on subsequent hospital admissions recorded from 1973 to 2003.
The analysis showed the least-popular people in childhood had the highest overall risk of serious health problems as adults. They were four times as likely to be hospitalized for hormonal, nutritional or metabolic diseases compared with their popular classmates. They were more than twice as likely to develop mental health and behavioral problems and more than five times as likely to be admitted for unintentional poisoning. Finally, they were more prone to develop drug and alcohol abuse problems and heart disease.
The findings were not dependent on the children's social class, which suggests that social relationships had some significant bearing on future well-being.
It's possible that some health problems, such as psychological or behavioral problems, preceded relationships with peers, noted the authors from Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute. But, they wrote, "peer status and health are perhaps best seen as parts of a process of mutual influence, evolving over time."
The study was published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Photo credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times