Adults with dysfunctional childhoods more at risk of heart disease, health issues

May 4, 2020

A high level of childhood family environment adversity has been shown to increase a person’s risk of having heart disease in their 50s and 60s. Children who experience trauma, abuse, neglect and family dysfunction are also likely to report higher rates of stress, smoking, anxiety, depression and sedentary lifestyle – which persist well into adulthood. These habits, according to Northwestern University (NU) researchers in Illinois, US, 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 behaviours, including using food as a coping mechanism, which can lead to problems with weight and obesity,” said Jacob Pierce, a fourth-year medical student at NU Feinberg School of Medicine. “They also have higher rates of smoking, which has a direct link to cardiovascular disease.”

The study used the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) data which has followed more than 3,600 participants from recruitment in 1985-1986 through 2018, to determine how childhood psychosocial environment relates to cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality in older middle age.

Participants were asked questions such as, “How often did a parent make you feel that you were loved, supported, and cared for?”; “How often did a parent swear at you, insult you, put you down or act in a way that made you feel threatened?”; or “Did your family know what you were up to as a kid?” The findings indicated parents’ involvement in their children’s lives could significantly affect their health later in life.

Joseph Feinglass, Research professor of medicine and of preventive medicine at Feinberg, said, “Early childhood experiences have a lasting effect on adult mental and physical well-being – a large number of American kids continue to suffer abuse and dysfunction that will leave a toll of health and social functioning issues throughout their lives.”

Adults who were exposed to such adversity as children may benefit from counselling, but more research is needed on the link between coping with stress and controlling smoking and obesity, Pierce said.

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Category: Features, Health alert

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