A new study shows something we’ve always figured was true: our health and habits as children and teens affect our health as adults. And not just our health, but how long we live.
What did the study measure and find?
The International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohorts Consortium Outcomes Study has been collecting data on almost 40,000 people from the United States, Finland, and Australia. They started enrolling them as children in the 1970s through the 1990s, and have been following them ever since.
The researchers have been looking at the effects of five risk factors:
- Body mass index, or BMI, a calculation that shows if a person is within a healthy weight range.
- Systolic blood pressure, which is the top number in a blood pressure reading and is a measure of how much pressure is exerted on the arteries when the heart beats.
- Total cholesterol value, a measure of how much of the waxy substance is in your blood. While cholesterol is important for doing things like building cells and hormones, having too much of it can lead to heart disease and stroke.
- Triglyceride level, a measure of how much of this fatty substance is in the blood. As with cholesterol, too much of it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Smoking in youth.
From 2015 to 2019, the researchers followed up on all of these people, who were 46 on average, which is not very old. They found that almost 800 of them had had cardiovascular events (like a heart attack or stroke), of which more than 300 were fatal.
When the researchers matched outcomes to values for the five factors, they found that they were indeed risk factors:
- People who had higher than normal values for all of the risk factors had almost triple the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Smoking was the biggest risk factor, followed by BMI, systolic blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol.
- You didn’t need to have all five factors to be at risk; for example, people who were obese as children were more than three times more likely to have cardiovascular disease — and those whose blood pressure was either high or close to high had double the risk.
None of this is a surprise, but seeing it so clearly should be a wake-up call, especially to parents.
This is an excerpt from an article that appears on the Harvard Health Publishing website.
Claire McCarthy is a senior faculty editor as Harvard Health Publishing, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.