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Examining the Impact of Race and Poverty on the Relationship Between Purpose in Life and Functional Health: Insights from the HANDLS Study.

INTRODUCTION: While research has shown a positive association between a higher sense of purpose in life and functional health, there is a gap in understanding its benefits for racially minoritized and low SES individuals. This study aimed to investigate the correlation between purpose in life and physical functional health in a diverse sample, hypothesizing that purpose in life would be negatively associated with functional difficulties, with potentially stronger associations in White and high SES groups.

METHODS: Data from the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) study were utilized (166 participants, mean age 59.44 [SD = 8.28], 59.6% females, 65.06% Black participants, 40.36% below poverty). Purpose in life was measured by Ryff's Psychological Well-being Purpose in Life subscale. Functional health was measured by functional difficulties in mobility and daily living. Race (Black and White) and poverty status (above and below) were used as moderators to probe the purpose-functional health association using zero-inflated Poisson regression while adjusting for age, education, depressive symptomology, and previous functional difficulties in four hierarchical models.

RESULTS: Results showed that purpose in life was negatively associated with functional difficulty, indicating fewer difficulties in mobility and daily activities among those with a high sense of purpose. While the association did not remain significant after including previous functional difficulty as a covariate in Model 4, suggesting that race may not be a consistent moderator, poverty status remained a consistent moderator. The association was stronger for individuals above the poverty level.

DISCUSSION: These findings underscore the complex interplay between purpose in life, race, poverty status, and functional health, emphasizing the importance of considering socioeconomic factors in interventions aimed at eliminating functional health disparities among diverse adult populations.

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