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J Adolesc Health. 2012 Jan;50(1):66-73. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.05.002. Epub 2011 Jul 22.

Positive youth, healthy adults: does positive well-being in adolescence predict better perceived health and fewer risky health behaviors in young adulthood?

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Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.



To examine the prospective, longitudinal associations between positive well-being during adolescence and health outcomes in young adulthood, using a large, nationally representative sample of youth.


On the basis of the data from the first three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we examined positive well-being during adolescence (averaged across Waves I-II) as a predictor of perceived young adult general health and risky health behaviors (Wave III). Each model included a full set of health and demographic baseline covariates. Missing values were assigned using multiple imputation methods (n = 10,147).


Positive well-being during adolescence was significantly associated with reporting better perceived general health during young adulthood, independent of depressive symptoms. Positive well-being was also significantly associated with fewer risky health behaviors in Wave III, after adding all covariates, including depressive symptoms and baseline risky health behaviors.


Few studies of adolescent health have examined positive psychological characteristics, tending to focus instead on the effect of negative mood states and cognitions on health. This study demonstrates that positive well-being during adolescence predicts better perceived general health and fewer risky health behaviors during young adulthood. Aligned with the goals of the positive youth development perspective, promoting and nurturing positive well-being during the transition from childhood to adolescence may present a promising way to improve long-term health.

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