Teens who grew up feeling loved experience better long-term health, study suggests

A new study published on Jan. 11, found that teenagers who felt loved and wanted had better long-term health, specifically with cardiometabolic health.

Scientists say cardiometabolic disorders come from a variety of risk factors, mostly hypertension, elevated blood sugar, dyslipidemia, abdominal obesity and elevated triglycerides.

According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, teens who reported more loving and tolerant atmospheres growing up were 69% more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle into young adulthood. They also had fewer complications pertaining to cardiometabolic health.

"We learned a lot in the last few decades about the impact of discrimination and other social risks youth of color face that may explain their elevated rates of cardiometabolic disease, however, much less attention is paid to the inherent strengths they possess and the ways those strengths may be leveraged to advance health equity," said lead study author Farah Qureshi, Sc.D., M.H.S.

Researchers examined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health which had information from 3,500 U.S. high schoolers (average age 16 years) in 1994. 

Nearly half of the students were girls and 67% were White while only 15% were Black and 11% were Latino. 

Scientists noted that over time, only 12% of the students maintained good health later in life. 

Researchers said they believe these findings suggest the importance of positive emotions which may serve as a buffer against the negative impacts of social stress many teens face. 

Researchers defined positive emotions with a variety of assets that they saw helped improve long-term health for the study participants. 

These psychological assets included optimism, happiness, self‐esteem, belongingness, and feeling loved.

"Assets like optimism and other facets of psychological wellbeing also predict greater health-enhancing behaviors across multiple domains, including physical activity, diet, and tobacco use," Qureshi said. 

More concerning than the health issues themselves was the fact that the researchers noticed alarming racial disparities in the results of the study. 

Black and Latino students reported having more health complications which scientists say were not attributed to biological differences but rather "generations of inequitable policies, institutions, and cultural norms that define a racial hierarchy in the United States that disproportionately benefits White individuals and harms people of color, especially Black individuals

Health inequities have been a well-known consequence of racial inequality in the U.S.

Black Americans are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than White Americans and Black Americans are also twice as likely to die from the disease. 

"For Black youth – who face numerous barriers to achieving and sustaining optimal cardiometabolic health in adulthood – not having these additional mental health resources makes a big difference," Qureshi said.