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Happy Teens Become Healthy Adults

happy teens jumping
People who were happy teens are more likely to rate their physical health as excellent when they become young adults. (Image credit: Godfer | dreamstime)

Teens who maintain a positive outlook are more likely than unhappy teens to grow into healthy adults, with a better overall state of well-being, according to a new study.

Researchers at Northwestern University reached that conclusion after reviewing data collected from 10,147 teenagers who took part in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which began surveying them in 1994. The teens answered a series of questions in 1994, 1996 and 2001 regarding their physical and emotional health.

The well-being questions focused on the teens' sense of happiness, enjoyment of life, hopefulness for the future, self-esteem and social acceptance.

Researchers at the university's Institute for Policy Research compared the 1994 responses with the teens' 2001 follow-up replies to see whether a positive outlook could predict perceived general health and risky health behaviors in young adulthood. The researchers said they controlled the study for health conditions in adolescence, socioeconomic status, symptoms of depression and other known predictors of long-term health.

The participants who'd indicated that they were happy teens were less likely than unhappy teens to become young adults engaged in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, binge drinking or eating unhealthy food, the researchers found.

"A lot of health-intervention programs for adolescents are problem-focused, but if well-being matters for long-term health, reinforcing and trying to develop positive psychological characteristics is something we need to think about," study researcher Lindsay Till Hoyt said in a statement.

The happy teens were also more likely to rate their physical health in 2001 as excellent.

"Our results show that positive well-being during adolescence is significantly associated with reporting excellent health in young adulthood," study researcher Emma K. Adam said.

The findings were published in the July issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

You can follow LiveScience writer Remy Melina on Twitter @remymelina. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience  and on Facebook.

Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.