February 12, 2015

Heart Health Begins at Home

It's not just what you feed your kids that makes them healthy adults. Intangibles have a big effect, too.

Most parents know that too much junk food, lack of physical activity, and too much screen time in childhood can set the stage for health problems in adulthood. But there are other aspects of childhood that can have as big or even bigger impact on children's long-term health.

Psychosocial experiences, such as the home environment in which children grow up, their social lives and their ability to handle their emotions, also play an often overlooked role in children's future health, according to a Finnish study.

Evidence to support the cost effectiveness of investing in the well-being of children and families because it decreases healthcare costs in old age.

Researchers studied the lives of over 3,500 children aged 3 to 18, measuring their families’ financial security, emotional environment, parents’ health behaviors, stressful events, ability to control aggression and impulsivity, and how well they fit in socially. After 27 years, just over a thousand of the participants at ages 30 to 45 were assessed for their level of cardiovascular health.

Cardiovascular health was measured using The American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 health factors. These seven steps include being active, controlling cholesterol, eating better, managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar, and not smoking.

Adults with the most psychosocial advantages as children were 14 percent more likely to be at a normal weight, 12 percent more likely to be a non-smoker, and had an 11 percent greater chance of having a healthy glucose level.

The two strongest predictors of cardiovascular health were a favorable socioeconomic status and good aggression and impulse control in childhood.

The study highlights the importance of the events children experience in youth to the risk of disease in adulthood. Other studies have shown that the roots of cardiovascular disease begin early in life.

“The choices parents make have a long-lasting effect on their children’s future health, and improvement in any one thing can have measurable benefits,” Laura Pulkki-Råback, senior author of the study, said in a statement. The study offers evidence to support the cost effectiveness of investing in the well-being of children and families because it decreases healthcare costs in old age.

“The knowledge is out there, and now it is a question of values and priorities,” she said.

The study is published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

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