Researchers say possessing positive mental health assets in adolescence may also help lessen the negative impact of health inequities.
In the study, published January 11 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers uncovered key mental health factors in young people that may contribute to better cardiometabolic health as adults.
Cardiometabolic health refers to a spectrum of conditions, including insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
To conduct the research, the scientists used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This study enrolled 3,478 US high school students in 1994 and followed them for more than 20 years. Among the participants, 49% were female, 67% were White, 15% were Black, 11% were Latino, and 6% were Native American, Asian, or not specified.
At enrollment, the researchers surveyed the students and identified five key mental health assets linked to better cardiometabolic health. These include happiness, self-esteem, optimism, feeling loved, and a sense of belonging.
The survey found that 55% of the young people had zero to one positive mental health asset, 29% had two to three assets, and 16% had four to five assets.
Then the scientists gathered the student’s health and wellbeing data over the years, with the last data collected in 2018.
The researchers also examined health measures for seven cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk factors. These measurements included cholesterol levels, blood pressure readings, blood sugar levels, and inflammatory markers.
The scientists found that when the students became young adults, only 12% maintained their cardiometabolic health. Moreover, as they got older, Black or Latino participants were less likely to sustain cardiometabolic health than White students.
In addition, participants with four to five mental health assets were 69% more likely to experience good cardiometabolic health as young adults.
The team also found that each additional mental health asset resulted in a 12% greater likelihood of good cardiometabolic health.
Overall, happiness, self-esteem, optimism, feeling loved, and a sense of belonging conferred protective effects on all racial and ethnic groups.
However, Black teens saw the most protective benefit of positive mental assets. Additionally, the scientists found evidence that positive mental health assets may help offset racial and ethnic cardiometabolic health disparities. Despite this, Black individuals were least likely to continue to have a healthy cardiometabolic profile as they aged.
The study authors suggest that fostering positive mental health assets in young people may help protect against cardiovascular disease in adulthood. In addition, possessing these assets in adolescence may help lessen the negative impact of health inequities.
“We need more large-scale studies to monitor these and other positive mental health factors starting in childhood to understand how these assets may influence health and disease over the life course. This information may help us identify new ways to improve health and reduce disparities,” said lead study author Farah Qureshi, ScD, MHS, in a news release.