Child Psychological Well-Being and Adult Health Behavior and Body Mass Index

Julia K. Boehm, Farah Qureshi, Laura D. Kubzansky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Psychological well-being (PWB) is linked with health behaviors among adults, but it is unclear if childhood PWB prospectively predicts healthy adulthood biobehavioral profiles. Such evidence may identify developmental windows for establishing positive health trajectories across the lifespan. Using data spanning 30 years, we investigated whether PWB at age 11 was associated with health behaviors and body mass index (BMI) at ages 33 and 42. We hypothesized children with higher versus lower PWB would engage in healthier behaviors, have lower BMI in adulthood, and be more likely to maintain optimal levels over time. Method: Data were from 4,728 participants of the 1958 National Child Development Study. At age 11, participants wrote an essay about how they imagined their lives at age 25. Two judges rated each essay for multiple facets of PWB, which were combined into a summary score (Cronbach’s α=.91). At ages 33 and 42, participants reported on cigarette smoking, physical activity, and diet; BMI was also assessed. Regression models evaluated PWB’s association with adult outcomes at each follow-up, and with patterns over time. Results: Child PWB was unassociated with smoking in adulthood. However, greater child PWB was associated with healthier adult physical activity, diet, and BMI when adjusting for sex. Child PWB was associated with the likelihood of maintaining optimal BMI in adulthood, but not with maintaining healthy behaviors. Some associations were not independent of other childhood covariates. Conclusions: Early life lays the foundation for lifelong health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-81
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2 2023


  • biobehavioral profiles
  • body mass index
  • health behaviors
  • psychological well-being
  • youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


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