Does high optimism protect against the inter-generational transmission of high BMI? The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study

J Psychosom Res. 2017 Sep;100:61-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2017.07.006. Epub 2017 Jul 12.


Objective: The transmission of overweight from one generation to the next is well established, however little is known about what psychosocial factors may protect against this familial risk. The aim of this study was to examine whether optimism plays a role in the intergenerational transmission of obesity.

Methods: Our sample included 1043 participants from the prospective Cardiovascular Risk in Young FINNS Study. Optimism was measured in early adulthood (2001) when the cohort was aged 24-39years. BMI was measured in 2001 (baseline) and 2012 when they were aged 35-50years. Parental BMI was measured in 1980. Hierarchical linear regression and logistic regression were used to examine the association between optimism and future BMI/obesity, and whether an interaction existed between optimism and parental BMI when predicting BMI/obesity 11years later.

Results: High optimism in young adulthood demonstrated a negative relationship with high BMI in mid-adulthood, but only in women (β=-0.127, p=0.001). The optimism×maternal BMI interaction term was a significant predictor of future BMI in women (β=-0.588, p=0.036). The logistic regression results confirmed that high optimism predicted reduced obesity in women (OR=0.68, 95% CI, 0.55-0.86), however the optimism × maternal obesity interaction term was not a significant predictor (OR=0.50, 95% CI, 0.10-2.48).

Conclusions: Our findings supported our hypothesis that high optimism mitigated the intergenerational transmission of high BMI, but only in women. These findings also provided evidence that positive psychosocial factors such as optimism are associated with long-term protective effects on BMI in women.

Keywords: BMI; Obesity; Optimism.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity
  • Optimism / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult