Childhood environment as a predictor of perceived health status in late life

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Sejal B. Shah *
Arthur J. Barsky
George Vaillant
Robert J. Waldinger
(*) Corresponding Author:
Sejal B. Shah | sbshah@partners.org

Abstract

Prior studies have shown that perceived health status is a consistent and reliable predictor of morbidity and mortality. Because perceived health status and objective health are not highly correlated, we sought to identify additional factors that shape self-perceptions of health. Research suggests that childhood experience is an important predictor of health in adulthood, but most studies are retrospective. Using data from a 70-year prospective study of psychosocial development, we examined the quality of childhood environment as a predictor of perceived health in late life. This study utilizes questionnaire data from a longitudinal study of adult development to examine predictors of perceived health across seven decades. Participants were members of the Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study of men followed for seven decades beginning in late adolescence. Childhood environment characteristics were assessed during home visits and interviews with respondents’ parents at entry into the study. At ages 63, 73, and 78, current health status was measured by an internist not affiliated with the Study, and perceived health was assessed via self-report questionnaires. Linear regression analyses were conducted to examine childhood environment as a predictor of perceived health status at these 3 time points while controlling for concurrent objective health and young adult neuroticism. Childhood environment predicted perceived health at all 3 time points. This study supports the hypothesis that the quality of childhood environment makes a unique contribution above and beyond personality traits and objective health status to perceptions of health in late life.

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