Children’s environment can impact their heart conditions as adults

The well-being of children is important for their growth, we know. Now a study says that the children who experience trauma, abuse, neglect and family dysfunction are at increased risk of having heart disease in their 50s and 60s.

A Northwestern Medicine study showed people exposed to the highest levels of childhood family environment adversity were more than 50 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular disease event such as a heart attack or stroke over a 30-year follow-up. The study involved 3,600 participants.

Children who experience this type of adversity are predisposed to higher rates of lifelong stress, smoking, anxiety, depression and sedentary lifestyle that persist into adulthood. These can lead to increased body mass index (BMI), diabetes, increased blood pressure, vascular dysfunction and inflammation.

“This population of adults is much more likely to partake in risky behaviors — for example, using food as a coping mechanism, which can lead to problems with weight and obesity,” said first author Jacob Pierce, a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “They also have higher rates of smoking, which has a direct link to cardiovascular disease.”


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