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Health & Parenting

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Teens' Peer Problems May Affect Health Later

Peer Problems in Teen Years Linked to Higher Risk of Metabolic Syndrome at 43, Researchers Find

Teen Peer Problems and Adult Health: Study Details continued...

"We haven't shown that to take peer problems away will make the problems [in adulthood] disappear," he says.

The link may be indirect, he says, even though they took into account other factors that increase the risk for metabolic syndrome. The peer problems, for example, may reflect problems in the family that play out at school.

The link between teen peer problems and later ill health was slightly stronger for women. "I think social support is more important for women than for men," he says.

Second Opinion

The findings are no surprise, says pediatrician Michael Yogman, MD. Yogman is a member of the AAP's committee on psychosocial aspects of child and family health. He reviewed the findings for WebMD.

"We are now seeing increasing data about the crossover and intersection of environmental stress, which is referred to as toxic stress, and these long-term effects on metabolic and regulatory systems," he says.

"We think it has to do with the stress response, the fight-or-flight response," says Yogman, who is also chairman of the board of the Boston Children's Museum. "When that response is extreme in a sustained way, without any kind of support or buffer, it can reset blood pressure, sugar metabolism, fatty acid metabolism, very basic biological systems."

Siegel agrees. He says the link is probably tied with stress and the stress hormone cortisol, and their effects on the body.

"There is a difference between toxic stress, which is permanent and causes problems, and limited stress, which you can do something about," he says.

Teen Peer Problems: Tips for Parents

Parents can help their teens reduce peer problems and the stress it causes, the doctors say.

"The way to buffer stress is to be supportive," Yogman says. "If your child is isolated at school and doesn't have any friends, I think you need to intervene."

Parents should consider introducing their teens to activities they might enjoy, such as sports or music, he says. The goal is to improve their peer relations.

Communication is key, Siegel says. "Talk to your adolescents and see if you can be sensitive to the changes they are going through."

Be especially sensitive to those teens with weight problems, Siegel says. "Kids who are more obese go through more peer problems."

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