Chin Up to Stay Healthy

Poor teens with supportive role models may end up healthier than those without role models

(RxWiki News) Teens from financially struggling backgrounds often have poorer health than teens from higher income backgrounds. But not all low-income teens have poorer health. What's their secret?

One possible answer is that the healthier teens from poorer background might have more supportive role models in their lives.

They may also be better about coping with stress by using adaptive skills and remaining optimistic.

A recent study looked at the health of teens from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The researchers found the teens with good role models and good stress coping strategies had better heart health.

"Seek out positive role models."

The study, led by Edith Chen, PhD, a psychology professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, specifically investigated the cardiovascular health of teenagers who had role models and/or used positive coping strategies for stress.

The study involved 163 teens, aged 13 to 16, who answered questions about their role models and underwent assessments for their cardiovascular health.

Their cardiovascular health was determined based on their cholesterol, their levels of a protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6) and their amount of another protein called C-reactive protein.

They were also interviewed about their use of "shift-and-persist" approaches to stress in their life. This approach refers to a mental adaptation strategy of reframing certain stressful aspects of their life as not so bad while remaining optimistic about the future.

The researchers found that teens from low socioeconomic backgrounds who had good role models and who used shift-and-persist strategies had lower levels of IL-6, which is a good thing for their overall health. IL-6 is linked to higher levels of inflammation, which is less healthy.

The teens who came from higher socioeconomic backgrounds did not show any difference in their cardiovascular health, regardless of whether they had role models or used shift-and-persist or not.

The lower levels of IL-6 were not seen in the teens from lower socioeconomic background who did not have supportive role models in their lives and who did not cope with stress using positive adaptive strategies.

The researchers concluded that understanding the possible influence of role models and adaptive strategies for adversity may help address health issues in teens from poorer backgrounds.

In addition, the researchers noted that both "shifting" and "persisting" are important. Simply being optimistic alone, or just reframing stressful events as harmless was not sufficient; teens needed to do both to gain the health benefits.

"If the combination can successfully be promoted among low-socioeconomic youth, there could be potential benefits for long-term physiological and ultimately, health trajectories in this group," the authors wrote.

The study was published December 20 in the journal Child Development. The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 11, 2013