A child's personality may affect later health
A study finds adults tested as kids and analyzes their traits
Children's personality traits predict their health risks and lifestyle as adults, suggests a novel study that began more than 40 years ago on Oahu and Kauai.
In a recent paper in Health Psychology, the researchers said their latest findings indicate "children's personality traits have far-reaching influences on their lives."
For example, they found children who were "more conscientious, imaginative and agreeable" achieved higher education and were more likely by middle age to eat healthful food, exercise and be nonsmokers.
SEE HOW THEY GREW
Personality traits of children linked to midlife health risk factors, according to a Hawaii-Oregon study:
Higher levels of smoking were reported by men and women who were less conscientious as children. Women who were less agreeable as children also were more likely to smoke as adults.
Men and women who were more extroverted and less emotionally stable in childhood reported more alcohol use, with men drinking more than women.
BODY MASS INDEX
Heavier men and women were described as less agreeable in childhood. Heavier men were regarded as more emotionally stable in childhood and heavier women were less conscientious as children.
Men and women who were more conscientious and extroverted as children had better self-rated health.
Youths who attained higher education after high school had better health in middle age.
Adults who smoke and drink alcohol were rated less conscientious and less emotionally stable in childhood.
The findings are coming out of research following up on personality assessments of 2,404 Oahu and Kauai elementary school students by their teachers in 1965 and 1967.
"It's a unique group," said Dr. Thomas Vogt, program director at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Hawaii and principal investigator for the Lifestyle, Culture and Health Project.
"There has never been one like it and there probably will never be a group like it again," he said.
Jack Digman, then a University of Hawaii psychology professor, did a pilot study on behavioral characteristics of children at the UH Lab School in 1959, then launched a full-scale study at the other schools.
In 1965, first-, second-, fifth- and sixth-graders were assessed by teachers at some Oahu elementary schools, and in 1967, Kauai sixth-graders were assessed.
The children were rated on 45 different descriptions of personality, such as whether they were fast or slow in doing their work, tardy or on time at school, sloppy or neat, conscientious or not.
Digman went to Eugene, Ore., after retiring from UH and continued to work at the Oregon Research Institute. In 1997, he and his colleagues in Oregon and Hawaii thought it would be intriguing to locate the grown children and compare their childhood personalities to their health and lifestyle.
The National Institute on Aging funded the Lifestyle, Culture and Health Project but Digman died in May 1998 as the search was beginning for the children, now in their 40s and 50s.
Vogt and Joan Dubanoski, formerly at UH and now research associate at the Kaiser health research center, continued the study with Drs. Lewis Goldberg and Sarah Hampson at the Oregon Research Center and Anthony Marsella, former UH psychology department chairman. Marsella now is a project consultant.
Dubanoski performed the remarkable feat of locating 2,000 of the children assessed by teachers despite scanty information, Vogt said.
"If you'd told me you'd find this many, I never would have believed you," he told Dubanoski in discussing the project during an interview.
For 99, Dubanoski had only first names, the class, grade and school. Using public records, the Internet and personal contacts, she located all but 19.
The "coconut wireless" helped her find nearly 90 percent of the Kauai students, she said. "Even people who moved away, someone knew where they were."
Half of the study's grown children are living on Oahu, 25 percent on the mainland, 17 percent on Kauai and 8 percent on neighbor islands, she said. About 75 had died, she said.
The group represents Hawaii's cultural diversity, with 37 percent Japanese, 21 percent Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian, 18 percent Caucasian and 24 percent other Asian or Pacific Island ancestry.
Of those she located, 1,300 signed up to participate in the new study, Dubanoski said. They completed questionnaires about their health status that researchers compared with childhood traits.
They also were asked to make a clinic visit at the Kaiser health research center at Dole Cannery. Kauai participants receive $300 for their expenses and Oahu residents $150.
About 550 have been interviewed thus far and had basic health tests, including one participant who was here from Paris and others from Japan and England, Dubanoski said.
Digman was interested in how childhood personality lasts into adulthood, Vogt said, "and now we are tracking the personality relationship to health risk behaviors."
With greater understanding of the effects of childhood personality traits, health messages and programs possibly could be developed to guide children toward a more healthful lifestyle, the researchers said.
They discovered that a "Big Five" system used to analyze adult personalities also applies to children, Dubanoski said. They are:
» Extroversion versus introversion (assertive and energetic versus shy and submissive).
» Agreeableness versus hostility (helpful and kind versus rude and cruel).
» Conscientiousness versus unconscientiousness (controlled and hardworking versus careless and impulsive).
» Emotional stability versus neuroticism (calm and well-balanced versus anxious, moody).
» Intellect/open to experience versus unintellectual/not open to experience (curious and creative versus unintelligent and unimaginative.)
Vogt said the personality inventories done by the participants were "significantly associated with teacher ratings for some of the five personalities."
Each person has a unique personality combining the five characteristics, depending how strong they are on a scale from one extreme to another, he said.
The researchers are applying for another five-year grant to explore the relationship of childhood characteristics to illness, life expectancy and ability to make changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, as the group ages, Vogt said.
They also are gathering social, genetic, biological and cultural information to see how these factors affect decisions on health and health care, Dubanoski said.
Scientists search for kids in study
Lifestyle, Culture and Health Project researchers are looking for about 400 of 2,404 students whose childhood personalities were assessed by teachers more than 40 years ago.
People are asked to call 432-4781* on Oahu or (800) 833-5006 from the neighbor islands or elsewhere if they were:
» A first-, second-, fifth- or sixth-grader in 1965 at these Oahu elementary schools: Aikahi, Makaha, Ka'ewai, Kapunahala, Noelani, Nuuanu, Waiahole, Waianae.
» A sixth-grader on Kauai in 1967 at any of these elementary schools: Eleele, Holy Cross, Kapaa, Kekaha, Koloa, St. Catherine, Waimea, Wilcox.
Anyone who attended one of those schools in the year and grades listed and hasn't been contacted by the Lifestyle, Culture and Health Project staff are asked to call to verify their status with the study.
40 years on, subjects glad to follow up
When the personalities of some children were assessed by teachers for a study in 1965 and 1967, families weren't aware of it because parental permission wasn't required.
So the grown children were surprised in their 40s and 50s when they were contacted by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research Hawaii to participate in a follow-up Lifestyle, Culture and Health Project.
"Some were a little frightened and wary," said Dr. Thomas Vogt, program director at the center and principal investigator of the project.
Professional musician Dukie Sampaio, 50, who was a second-grader at Waianae Elementary School when the study was done, said he at first had doubts but decided to find out about the project firsthand.
When he went to the Kaiser research center at Dole Cannery, he said, "I was very surprised. They said they wanted to do some studies on me if I'm willing to participate and compensate for my time."
After talking to the researchers and taking some clinical tests, he said, "I thought it was pretty neat. They made me more aware of myself."
Sampaio said he learned, "If you don't have a healthy diet, all kinds of stuff pop up from our body. Now I'm more cautious about my intake on food and try to keep a balanced diet."
Doreen Kaleiwahea, 52, a teacher at Waikea Elementary School on the Big Island, said she lived in Kam IV housing and was in the fifth grade at Ka'ewai Elementary School when the personality assessments were done.
Kaleiwahea, of Keaau, said she was happy to be part of the study when the researchers tracked her down because many of her family members have diabetes and other health problems. "I really hope I can help in this study to solve some of those problems."
She said she was the sixth of 10 children and her family was "very poor so we ate not the best foods. We had to eat a lot of foods, canned goods, high in salt and fat, but we managed."
She doesn't have diabetes but she has high blood pressure. "I'm a typical local girl. I eat all typical foods," she said.
Kaleiwahea said the researchers delved into how she took care of herself, "spiritually, physically and emotionally, and how those things were detrimental to me in my younger years and how I tried to turn those things around as an adult with knowledge."
"I kind of integrate that education into everything I teach, how to take care of yourself," added the fourth-grade special education teacher.
Friday, March 9, 2007
» Health researchers are looking for people who were first-, second-, fifth- or sixth-graders at these Oahu elementary schools in 1965: Aikahi, Makaha, Kaewai, Kapunahala, Noelani, Nuuanu, Waiahole and Waianae. Also, those who were sixth-graders in 1967 at these Kauai elementary schools: Eleele, Holy Cross, Kapaa, Kekaha, Koloa, St. Catherine, Waimea or Wilcox. Call 432-4781. A Page A1 story Sunday had an incorrect Oahu number.