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Children who are popular at school not only enjoy more friends and peer respect but also grow up to be healthier adults, according to a 30-year Swedish study.

Youngsters with fewer friends and less social status are far more likely to suffer conditions such as heart disease and diabetes later in life and are at a greater risk of suicide and drug and alcohol dependency.

The study by Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute tracked more than 14,000 children born in Sweden in 1953 and through to 2003 to see if childhood status in school had any links with disease-specific morbidity in adulthood.

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"The exposure to expectations and access to resources that accompany any given peer status position are likely to have a long-term impact on the child's identity, behaviour and ambitions, as well as the choices they make for themselves," said the researchers.

"This may in turn affect health development across the life course," they added in a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

For the study, the children were assessed at about the age of 13 for their degree of popularity, power and social status. This information was then matched to data on hospital admissions recorded from 1973 to 2003.

The less popular children were four times as likely to be hospitalized for hormonal, nutritional or metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

They were also more than twice as likely to develop mental health and behavioural problems and significantly more prone to develop drug and alcohol abuse problems and heart disease.

"The present study underlines the importance of recognizing children's social position …," researchers said.

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