Hardships in Childhood Lead to Increase Chance of Heart Disease in Adulthood
Adversity during childhood through poverty, socioeconomic problems, social isolation, or abuse is linked to heart problems later in life.
"Many diseases first diagnosed in mid-life can be traced back to childhood," Karen A. Matthews, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, was quoted as saying at the 118th Annual Conventions of the American Psychological Association. "Having some bad health habits in your 20s and 30s is part of the reason why people get diseases later on. However, it isn't the whole reason. The evidence shows that certain reactions to adverse childhood experiences associated with lower socioeconomic status, isolation, and negative events can affect the disease process."
"It seems that parents' SES (socioeconomic status) affects young adolescents' later risk for cardiovascular disease more than younger children and older teenagers," Dr. Matthews said.
Previous studies show that persistent stress throughout life increases the chances for disease later. Adolescence is a critical time in the life of a child, and when they are frequently exposed to stressful situations it has more of an impact later in life than any other age. "Our data suggests that this age group is more vulnerable to cardiovascular risks if they are exposed to various stressors because of their hormonal changes and their sensitivity to peer rejection, acceptance, and how they interpret others' attitudes towards themselves," explains Dr. Matthews.
Matthews study examined 212 14-16 year olds for three years to see if living in poorer areas was linked to sensitivity to stress and in turn to heart problems in adulthood. The participants were half black and half white, half male and half female, and all healthy individuals. Their levels of carotid artery thickening, artery stiffness, and blood pressure were measured in order to determine problems later in life. The socioeconomic status was measured by parental education, household income, the percentage of poor people living in that area, percentage of high school graduates, and number of valuables such as homes, number of bedrooms, insurance, loans, and debts.
The study found that children from poorer families had stiffer arteries several years later, those living in impoverished communities had high blood pressure when monitored for two days at school, and blacks living in poor neighborhoods had thickening of their carotid arteries. Thicker carotid arteries are associated with heart disease. Those with higher diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) had thickening of the carotid arteries years later.
There was another study on 1,037 children from New Zealand, who were followed from birth to death. They found that children who were socially isolated had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, due to higher glucose levels, overweight, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels. The social isolation was measure by the parent's recount of their children being alone, and the children speaking of their loneliness. This shows that chronic social isolation during childhood has many affects and can lead to poor health in adulthood.
Matthews did another study on the effects of socioeconomic status on reactions to negative situations, which overtime increases the chance of heart disease. They studies 201 children and adolescents "Children who have minimal resources both from their families and communities grow up to unpredictable, stressful environments," said Dr. Matthews. "Fewer resources make people more susceptible to negative effects of adversity. One way to adapt is to become hyperviligant to head off potential threats. But the consequence of this is to then interpret events as threatening, even when they are not, and start to mistrust people. Interactions with others then become a source of stress, which can increase arousal, blood pressures, inflammations levels, and deplete the body's reserves. This sets up risk for cardiovascular disease."
SOURCE: 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association held in San Diego, California August 12-15, 2010