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Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Relationship Between Stressful Life Events and Quality of Life in Adolescents


Stressful life events (SLEs) increase allostatic load and require adaptation. Experiencing SLEs has been associated with decreased health-related quality of life (HRQOL) among adolescents. This study examined racial/ethnic and developmental differences in the relationship between SLEs and HRQOL from preadolescence to mid adolescence. Data were from 4,824 participants in the Healthy Passages project, a population-based prospective longitudinal survey of fifth, seventh, and 10th grade adolescents in the U.S. HRQOL was measured with Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory and SLEs with items addressing family-related SLEs (e.g., the parent’s death, separation, and divorce; family member’s injury/illness; residential change; new child in the household). Adolescents, regardless of race/ethnicity, reported the highest SLEs and the lowest HRQOL in early adolescence. Analysis of an autoregressive model with cross-lagged effects showed that the concurrent relationships between SLEs and HRQOL were significantly negative across preadolescence, early adolescence, and mid adolescence in African-American, Latinx, and white groups. Furthermore, adolescents had a negative cross-lagged association from SLEs in early adolescence to HRQOL in preadolescence, but this was not the case among the other racial/ethnic groups. Because the negative relationship between family-related SLEs and HRQOL persisted throughout stages of adolescent development, health services targeting adolescents should provide comprehensive family-centered care to alleviate the impact of family-related life stress. Relationships between family life stress and HRQOL varied by racial/ethnic groups, which should be considered by health professionals, teachers, and parents, and in prevention efforts. Latinx adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to time-lagged effects of such family-related stress.

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