Your Childhood Happiness Can Predict Your Heart Health as an Adult

Dao Ho, PhD

Dao Ho, PhD

The idea that the environment during childhood can shape or program adult cardiovascular health is nothing new. Many studies over the last decade have shown that adversity during childhood, such as low socioeconomic status, parental discord, physical and sexual abuse, and war-time atrocities, is strongly associated with an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. A new study published in Circulation in January supports this idea, and suggests that there may be a whole host of good things parents can do to enrich their children’s life and help ensure they have ideal cardiovascular health as adults.

Dr. Laura Pulkki-Raback and her research team at the University of Helsinki, Finland, asked whether a good psychosocial environment during childhood is associated with good cardiovascular health in adulthood. They followed more than 1,000 people for 27 years, from about 10 years old to about 37 years old. At the beginning of the study, the parents of these children were asked to fill out surveys assessing their child’s psychosocial environment based on six criteria: socioeconomic factors, emotional family environment, optimal health behaviors of the parents, lack of stressful events, self-regulatory behavior and social adjustment. Based on the parents’ response, each child was given a psychosocial factor score. Twenty-seven years later, as 37-year-old adults, the participants were asked to return for a health check-up.

The authors found that the more favorable the psychosocial environment the person experienced as a child, the healthier the individual was as an adult. Those that had higher favorable psychosocial factor scores had a leaner body mass index and more ideal glucose level. They were also more likely to be nonsmokers. All these factors play a huge role in maintaining ideal cardiovascular health.

With all the warnings and cautionary tales that point to what not to do to prevent heart disease and stroke, it is refreshing to see a study that may guide us on what more we should do to further improve our cardiovascular health. This study not only highlights the importance of having a psychologically healthy and enriching childhood on cardiovascular health, but it also provides us with the tools to make future generations even healthier.

Dao Ho, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher in the Cardio-Renal Physiology and Medicine section at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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