Variability in self-rated health trajectories from adolescence to young adulthood by demographic factors
Self-rated health (SRH) is a robust measure of general health status and an indicator of where and when to target disease prevention efforts-especially in adolescent populations when clinical endpoints are rare. This study's purpose was to model SRH trajectories from ages 13 to 31 and identify whether and when differences between demographic groups emerge. We employed a conditional latent growth model of SRH in December 2016 using a nationally representative sample of 11,512 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health data collected in 1994-2008. The average SRH trajectory is curvilinear: SRH increases until age 21 and then decreases. This trajectory contains significant between-individual variability in the intercept and linear slope. Males and self-identified non-Hispanic Blacks had higher SRH at age 13 but experienced steeper linear declines than their demographic counterparts. Individuals who grew up in households without two parents and whose parents did not graduate college had consistently lower SRH compared to those living in households with two parents and whose parents graduated college. Self-rated health is not stable over the span of early adolescence to young adulthood; demographic factors account for differences in individual variability around the starting point and overtime changes in SRH. Because these differences are apparent as early as age 13 years, prevention efforts targeting demographic-based disparities should occur early in life.