Kids who have an abusive relationship with their parents have a higher risk of worse heart health as adults, a new study reveals.
However, children who have positive childhood relationships score 25 percent higher in heart health later in life.
Researchers in the United States examined 2,074 adults between the ages of 18 and 30 over a 20-year period in order to establish the links between childhood experience and cardiovascular health.
They collected data on diets, exercise, smoking, cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight to measure heart health, and gave out questionnaires about experiences during childhood.
These included questions on emotional and physical abuse, affection from caregivers, levels of love and care from adults, substance abuse in the home, and household organization.
The final study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, found that an abusive childhood relationship was associated with 13 percent lower odds of attaining a high heart health score.
In contrast, a positive relationship between child and caregiver was associated with 12 percent higher odds of reaching the highest cardiovascular health score.
Results also showed that even the smallest differences in childhood experiences had an impact, with those scoring just one unit higher on the ‘risky family environment’ questionnaire having four percent less chance of attaining the optimum heart health score.
The researchers say this is the first study to identify a link between childhood family environment and cardiovascular health at different times throughout adult life.
It comes after 59 percent of US adults reported at least one adverse childhood experience in a 2018 survey carried out by the American Heart Association.
Lead author Dr. Robin Ortiz, an assistant professor at New York University, said: “It is known that early childhood health lays the foundation for later life health.
“But we found that how children interact with adults during their lives may also be impactful.
“Safe, stable, and nurturing caregiver relationships during childhood may increase the chances of optimal heart health as an adult, while adverse family experiences during childhood may increase the odds of poor cardiovascular health as an adult.
“Therefore, supporting adults in a way that may promote these positive relationships with children in their care may be important for creating healthy childhood habits that carry on through adulthood.”
She added that this means healthcare professionals should always consider the health and well-being of a household when addressing cardiovascular health.
The research paper also found that high levels of warmth and affection from caregivers did not protect against low cardiovascular health scores as adults if abuse still occurred.
Dr. Oritz explained: “It turns out that those with high caregiver warmth who also experienced high abuse were still more likely to have lower cardiovascular health scores.
“This suggests that the lack of stability in a caregiver relationship, in other words, the potential to experience abuse and warmth with unpredictability for either, may be as harmful as exposure to high rates of abuse without protective factors.”
Another crucial finding from the research was that earning lower annual incomes during adulthood – $35,000 or less – may confuse the effects of childhood adversity.
The study argues that having a low salary as an adult may introduce additional adversity throughout their life, which could amplify the experience of a difficult childhood.
In these cases, it can be difficult to establish the exact impact that a relationship between a caregiver and a child has on heart health.
“We interpret this to suggest that people with low income in adulthood may have faced adversity in both early and later life beyond family relationship experiences – perhaps also socioeconomic hardships or structural adversity,” Dr. Oritz said.
Because the study is based on information collected from adults about their childhoods, some findings may be influenced by factors such as memory and bias.
“It will therefore be important for future studies to follow children early and throughout life if we hope to make more definitive or cause-and-effect statements about the impact of early life exposures on later-life outcomes,” Dr. Ortiz said.
Collaborators Dr. Shakira Suglia and Dr. Ayana April-Sanders added that future studies should also consider whether interventions that strengthen relationships between children and their caregivers could promote positive cardiovascular health over their lives.
They explained: “Currently, interventions mainly focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy that addresses mental health outcomes.
“But little is known of interventions that can be delivered to address cardiovascular health and best practices for implementing those interventions.”
In previous studies, poor childhood experiences have also been linked to a higher risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiometabolic disease.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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