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Childhood Conscientiousness May Predict Future Health

Update Date: Aug 09, 2013 03:10 PM EDT

Kids who exhibit lower conscientiousness could experience worse overall health as adults, according to a new study.

The longitudinal study also reveals that children who are irresponsible, careless and not persevering are more likely to become obese and unhealthy adults. In contrast, children who are organized, dependable and self-disciplined are more likely to become healthy adults.

"These results are significant and unique because they show the far-reaching effects of childhood conscientiousness on adult health. Others have shown that more conscientiousness children live longer. Now we have shown that these conscientious children are also healthier at midlife," researcher Sarah Hampson, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health, Hawaii, said in a news release.

The latest study involved data from 2,000 children from elementary schools on two Hawaiian Islands in the 1960s.  Nearly 75 percent of those in the original group who could be located agreed to participant and over 800 individuals completed a medical and psychological examination.

Researchers found that kids rated by their teachers in the 1960's as less conscientious were significantly more likely to experience worse global health as adults. These children were more likely to be obese and have high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

The findings revealed that childhood conscientiousness was significantly associated with decreased function of the cardiovascular and metabolic systems. Researchers said the link was independent of the other Big Five personality childhood traits, adult conscientiousness, childhood socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and gender.

"These findings suggest avenues for further research that may lead to interventions. People who are more conscientious tend to have better health habits and less stress, which protects them from disease. Self-control is a key part of being conscientious, so our findings confirm the importance of teaching children self-control to enable then to grow up to be healthy adults," Hampson explained.

The findings are published in the journal Health Psychology

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