Having friends is nice — just about everyone can agree to that. And you’d probably also agree that being able to rely or lean on your friends in times of both happiness and stress makes you feel a lot better. But what you might not realize is that, according to a new study, making friendships as a child can have a profound “butterfly effect” that predicts you’ll be a healthier adult.
A new study that was a product of a joint effort between Texas Tech University and the University of Pittsburgh has some news that’s sure to put a smile on your face today. Think back to the friendships you made as a child: the warm summer evenings running around playing tag outside; the tea parties with stuffed animals; swinging on the swings and talking about things that are important to kids. We hope that you had these types of experiences when you were young. And if you did, this new study says that you’re statistically more likely to be a healthy (and well-adjusted) adult.
Surprisingly, though, the benefits from these childhood friendships aren’t just mental. Yes, the study also acknowledged that healthy socialization as a child comes along with a whole host of other positive outcomes for adults when they grow up. But incredibly — despite controlling for factors like race, personality, childhood health, and income — having close friends as a child correlates with superior physical health as an adult.
The lead researcher on the study, Jenny M. Cundiff, had the following summation of the study’s results:
“These findings suggest that our early social lives may have a small protective influence on our physical health in adulthood, and it’s not just our caregivers or financial circumstances, but also our friends who may be health protective.”
Specifically, the protective aspect that Ms. Cundiff refers to appears to most profoundly affect Body Mass Index (BMI). In case you’re not familiar, your BMI takes into account your height and weight to determine different ranges of appropriate body mass depending on your size. The study found that those who had close childhood friendships were far more likely to end up with a healthy and appropriate BMI for their size once they reached adulthood.
So, why is this improved BMI significant? Well, there’s several years of pretty rock-solid research that correlates a healthy BMI with improved wellness outcomes. Simply put, there are certain things in life that are pretty straightforward predictors for whether you’re more likely to develop health complications. Smoking, for example, is linked to a whole host of terrible outcomes. And obesity — a problem where your BMI falls too far past the upper end of your healthy limit for your height — has some of the worst and most negative outcomes of all.
Does that mean that you’re guaranteed to develop problems if you’re obese? No — remember, correlation is not the same thing as causation. However, think of it like a deck of cards. If you have a normal BMI, the odds of developing blood pressure problems, for example, might be similar to the odds of drawing an Ace from the deck. If you’re obese, however, the odds are more like drawing any Ace, King, Queen, or Jack. The shuffle is still random, but the chances are significantly higher.
The bottom line is this: in this study, people who developed close childhood connections ended up being significantly more likely to have a healthy BMI by age 32. So, if you’re a parent to a young child, you should feel good about encouraging socialization not just on a mental and emotional level… but on a physical wellness level, too.