There are a wide variety of factors behind health behaviour and one of them is personality. Differences in behaviour and response style between individuals are already visible in young children. A recent paper examined the role of socio-emotional behaviour in children in relation to physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption and body mass index assessed up to 42 years later.

Well-controlled behaviour in girls, indicating a tendency to behave kindly and constructively in conflicting situations, predicted more physical activity in middle age. Social activity, which was seen, for example, as an eagerness to talk and play with other children, predicted heavier alcohol consumption in girls and smoking in boys.

"Well-controlled behaviour may appear as good self-discipline and the ability to follow the exercise plans in adulthood," says postdoctoral researcher Tiia Kekalainen.

"Social activity, on the other hand, may have led later to social situations where smoking and alcohol consumption were started."

The educational path matters

Some paths between childhood socio-emotional behaviour and midlife health behaviours went through education. Social activity in girls and well-controlled behaviour in both girls and boys predicted better school success in adolescence and higher education in adulthood. High educational achievement was linked, in turn, to less smoking and alcohol use.

"The results are in line with previous results based on this same longitudinal data and other studies," says Kekalainen.

"In particular, well-controlled behaviour has been found to contribute to school success and education. These may provide information and skills that help to make healthy choices. The results of this paper suggest that differences in individuals' behaviour already visible in childhood are reflected in adulthood both directly and through various mediating mechanisms."

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