Subjective well -being as predictor of mortality, heart disease, and obesity: Prospective evidence from the Alameda County Study

Jingping Xu, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Based on the World Health Organization's (1965) definition of health, understanding of health requires understanding of positive psychological states. Subjective Well-being (SWB) is a major indicator of positive psychological states. Up to date, most studies of SWB have been focused on its distributions and determinants. However, study of its consequences, especially health consequences, is lacking. This dissertation research examined Subjective Well-being, as operationally defined by constructs drawn from the framework of Positive Psychology, and its sub-scores (Positive Feelings and Negative Feelings) as predictors of three major health outcomes—mortality, heart disease, and obesity. The research used prospective data from the Alameda County Study over 29 years (1965–1994), based on a stratified, randomized, representative sample of the general public in Alameda County, California (Baseline N = 6928). Multivariate analyses (Survival analyses using sequential Cox Proportional Hazard models in the cases of mortality and heart disease, and sequential Logistic Regression analyses in the case of obesity) were performed as the main methods to evaluate the associations of the predictors and the health outcomes. The results revealed that SWB reduced risks of all-cause mortality, natural-cause mortality, and cardiovascular mortality. Positive feelings not only had an even stronger protective effect against all-cause, natural-cause and cardiovascular mortality, but also predicted decreased unnatural-cause mortality which includes deaths from suicide, homicide, accidents, mental disorders, drug dependency, as well as alcohol-related liver diseases. These effects were significant even after adjusted for age, gender, education, and various physical health measures, and, in the case of cardiovascular mortality, obesity and health practices (alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical activities). However, these two positive psychological indicators, SWB and positive feelings, did not predict obesity. And negative feelings had no significant effect on any of the health outcomes evaluated, i.e., all-cause mortality, natural- and unnatural-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, or obesity, after covariates were controlled. These findings were discussed (1) in comparison with relevant existing studies, (2) in terms of their implications in health research and promotion, (3) in terms of the independence of positive and negative feelings, and (4) from a Positive Psychology perspective and its significance in Public Health research and practice.

Subject Area

Public health|Behaviorial sciences

Recommended Citation

Xu, Jingping, "Subjective well -being as predictor of mortality, heart disease, and obesity: Prospective evidence from the Alameda County Study" (2005). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3183954.