Sick teens are more isolated than other kids, but they do not necessarily realize it and often think their friendships are stronger than they actually are, a new study has revealed.
The study is based on the surveys conducted long ago but it offers insight into the role that health plays in the relationships between people, said lead author and sociologist Steven Haas.
"Health is both a cause and a consequence of how many friends you have and how many people you have to support you," noted Haas, an assistant professor at Arizona State University.
Haas and colleagues examined the results of a 1994-1996 survey of teenagers that asked them to name their friends. The study authors focused on 2,060 teens and explored the connections between them and their classmates.
Roughly, two-thirds of teens rated their health as 'excellent' or 'very good'. The researchers looked most closely at the other kids - about a third of the total, who said their health was 'good', 'fair' or 'poor'. They might have suffered from conditions like asthma, obesity, deafness or blindness, Haas said.
He further added that, "the less healthy kids are in smaller networks over time compared to their healthier peers. The kids don't perceive themselves as having fewer friends. If you ask them to list them, they list the same number of friends as the healthy kids do. But if you ask the other kids who they're friends with, they're much less likely to nominate the sick kids as their friends."
In essence, the sicker kids "tend to overstate how strong some of their friendships are", he said.
It gets worse. The sicker kids are 20 percent more likely to have no friends. That means that no one in the school lists them as one of their friends.
Robert Crosnoe, a sociologist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said while it might seem obvious that good health boosts friendships and vice versa, he said, "it is not something scientists have done a good job of studying," largely because there are not good data.
He also pointed to a potential bonus to helping kids become healthier.
"The findings suggest that school health services, to the extent that they work, could have effects on high-school peer dynamics that adults find so complex and mysterious, not just health itself," added Crosnoe.
The study is published in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.