Stress During Childhood Found to Increase the Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes

Stress During Childhood Found to Increase the Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes
General Health

A childhood filled with psychological stress may put youngsters at greater risk of developing diabetes and heart disease later in life. [1]

Researchers at the American Institute of Stress say that stress is a primary contributing cause of at least 60% of all illness and disease in human beings. New research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology supports this well-supported finding and suggests that this risk begins to take shape during our most formative years.

For the study, researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston analyzed data from the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study, which involved almost 7,000 participants who were born in the same week. Information concerning participants’ stress and mental health was gathered on the individuals at the ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33, and 42 years.

Researchers checked participants’ blood samples at age 45 and collected blood samples and assessed for 9 biological markers of metabolic and cardiovascular health and immune function.

The data was used to calculate a cardiometabolic risk score that indicates a person’s risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Patients who experienced persistent distress throughout their lives had the highest cardiometabolic risk score, compared with those who had low distress. Adults who had persistent stress through middle adulthood also had high risk scores than adults who were overweight as children. The findings did not change, even after researchers adjusted for various factors, including medication use, socioeconomic status, and health behaviors. [2]

Lead author Ashley Winning from the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says:

“While effects of distress in early childhood on higher cardiometabolic risk in adulthood appeared to be somewhat mitigated if distress levels were lower by adulthood, they were not eradicated. This highlights the potentially lasting impact of childhood distress on adult physical health.”

Winning says that childhood distress continued to have a “potentially lasting impact” on the subjects’ health in adulthood, though that stress appeared to lessen when stress levels decreased as the individuals aged.

In an accompanying article, E. Alison Holman, associate professor in the Program of Nursing Science at the University of California, Irvine, said that it might not be enough to manage smoking, obesity, and other cardiovascular risks if the underlying reasons why people adopt unhealthy lifestyles are not addressed. She suggests that if doctors fail to address the underlying reasons, it may only contribute to patients’ stress levels, “especially if they feel stuck or unable to make the recommended changes.” [3]

Winnings says that early prevention and intervention strategies should focus on the child’s social circumstances and not just the child alone.

“Thus, early prevention and intervention strategies focused not only on the child but also on his or her social circumstances may be an effective way to reduce the long-lasting harmful effects of distress,” Winning says.


[1] Medical News Today

[2] International Business Times

[3] Tech Times