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Unpopular in School, Unhealthy Later?

Students Shunned in Sixth Grade May Be More Likely to Be Hospitalized Later, Researcher Reports

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 28, 2009 -- The kids no one wants to work with in sixth grade may be at a health disadvantage as adults, a Swedish study shows.

The study, published in the advance online edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, included about 12,500 Swedes born in 1953.

In sixth grade, the students were asked to name the three classmates they best liked working with at school.

"Favorite" students were named by at least seven of their classmates. "Popular" students got four to six nominations. "Accepted" kids were named by two or three of their classmates. "Peripheral" students were named by only one of their peers, and "marginalized" students weren't picked by anyone.

Decades later, when the students had matured into 50-year-olds, those in the "marginalized" and "peripheral" groups were more likely than their peers to have ever been hospitalized for certain conditions.

For instance, 559 men and 483 women had ever been hospitalized for mental or behavioral disorders. Those who had been in the "marginalized" group in sixth grade were about twice as likely to have been hospitalized for those reasons as people who were "favorites" in sixth grade.

Among men, hospitalization for alcohol abuse, accidents, injury, drug dependence, and endocrine, nutritional, or metabolic disorders were more common for those who had been "marginalized" in sixth grade.

Among women, hospitalization for disorders of the digestive system, musculoskeletal system, or connective tissue were among the conditions that were more common for those who had been in the "marginalized" group as girls.

The study doesn't show why the unpopular kids were more likely to be hospitalized -- or why they were unpopular in the first place.

But the researcher -- graduate student Ylva Almquist, MSc, of the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden, says the social class of the kids' parents didn't affect the results.

SOURCES: Almquist, Y. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Sept. 29, 2009; advance online edition

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