The Effect of Psychosocial Stressors on Health Behaviours and Indicators of Cardiometabolic Risk in the Transition to Young Adulthood

Adolescence and young adulthood are critical periods for health promotion and disease prevention. Cardiometabolic risk (CMR) refers to a set of indicators that increase an individual’s risk for diabetes, heart disease or stroke. These indicators start to show predictive variability in adolescence and identification and implementation of early strategies for risk management can have significant long-term health benefits. Much of what we know about CMR comes from studies of adults; therefore, research focusing on earlier age groups is needed.

The first objective of the proposed research is to describe the frequencies of select, non-invasive CMR indicators, including body mass index (BMI), systolic and diastolic blood pressure (BP), and waist circumference in young adulthood (ages 22-29). Research in psychoneuroimmunology documents the deleterious effects of stress on physical health; however, less attention has been given to adolescents and young adults.

The second objective is to examine how psychosocial stressors that become salient in adolescence (e.g. internalizing symptoms and interpersonal stress) predict CMR.

The third objective is to examine how these stressors compromise the enactment of key health behaviours (e.g. physical activity, eating habits, sleep duration) leading to increased CMR.

The project will use six waves of the Victoria Healthy Youth Survey (V-HYS), a 10-year longitudinal study that surveyed youth (N = 662) biannually from 2003 (T1; ages 12-18) to 2014 (T6; ages 22-29). In-person measurements of CMR (BMI, systolic and diastolic BP, waist circumference) were collected at T6. Measurements of internalizing symptoms, interpersonal stress (e.g. peer victimization), and health behaviours were collected at each wave.

Findings will highlight the variability in CMR in young adulthood and increase knowledge on the effects of two salient stressors on CMR from adolescence to young adulthood, providing new information about targets for prevention and interventions. The results will also inform guidelines for early identification and preventative healthcare.

Knowledge translation efforts will include 1) peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, media reports, and policy formats; 2) creating an infographic about CMR in young adulthood to release to the media; and 3) developing a training tool to educate healthcare professionals about the relations between stress and CMR in these young age groups.