Science asserts that feeling socially integrated can not only help us sleep better and age better.
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This story originally appeared on Foro Económico Mundial
By Iris Reguera de Vitonica
In adults, having good social relationships and feeling socially integrated can not only help us sleep better and age better , but it is also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension. Now it seems that not only our relationships as adults influence, but the type of relationships we have in childhood can influence our health afterwards.
This is what they find in recent research , conducted by the University of Texas and the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers used a longitudinal sample of 256 people – all men. Previous research had found that peer relationships could only predict cardiovascular health in women and not in men.
This is why this research focuses on men. The idea was to test whether children who were better integrated, and had better social relationships with their peers, had better blood pressure and lower body mass index as adults.
Indeed, they found that the children who seemed to be better integrated – according to their parents’ references – had lower blood pressure and lower body mass 20 years later. In addition, they found that the results did not differ based on the origin of the people studied and that it was not explained based on other variables such as the body mass index in childhood, their socioeconomic status, their mental health during childhood, their level of of extroversion in adolescence or, even, due to their level of social integration as adults.
Based on these results, the researchers suggest that integration with peers early in life may be associated with physical health in adulthood. Especially, they refer that it is relevant in relation to hypertension and obesity.
It is interesting research when it comes to cardiovascular health, but it has a number of limitations. To begin with, the research carried out does not explain the psychobiological mechanisms that would explain the association between social relationships and lower cardiovascular risk, therefore, based solely on this research, causality cannot be inferred.
In addition to this, their measurement in relation to social integration is based on the time that parents indicate that their children spend with other peers. In other words, what is measured is the time per week they spend interacting with other children, but the quality of these relationships is not measured, among other variables, which could modify the results or, at least, qualify them.
This is an interesting research that could highlight the importance of social relationships during childhood, regardless of gender, origin or socioeconomic status, but whose limitations still leave many questions open and unexplained.