Young patients' personalities crucial to preventive care

Physicians looking to provide better preventive care should assess not just patients' genetic predispositions to certain conditions, but their personality types as well, especially when it comes to the influx of younger patients now covered under the Affordable Care Act, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Conscientiousness is the most predictive personality trait, compared to being an extrovert, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness to experience, according to the study of 1,037 New Zealand young adults tracked until age 38.

"Among the least conscientious [at age 26], 45 percent went on to develop multiple health problems by age 38, while just 18 percent of the most conscientious group developed health problems," study author Salomon Israel of Duke University said in a announcement from the American Psychological Association (APA). "Individuals low in conscientiousness were more often overweight, had high cholesterol, inflammation, hypertension and greater rates of gum disease."

According to researchers, conscientious people are more likely to exercise, eat well and not smoke, making them less likely to engage in poor lifestyle habits that contribute to disease. While physicians who treat young adults can get some sense of these tendencies through their interactions, Israel noted that "personality traits can be measured cheaply, easily and reliably."

This study also provides more evidence of the benefits of integrated healthcare, APA Executive Director Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D., said in the statement. "The best healthcare is one that treats the whole person including how their personality traits impacts their attitudes and behaviors vis-à-vis their health," said Anderson, who is also director of APA's Center for Psychology and Health.

To learn more:
- read the statement
- see the study abstract