Childhood Stress Linked to Later Health Issues

A 45-year-long study of nearly 7,000 people has found that psychological distress in childhood is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes in adulthood. Ashley Winning, ScD, MPH, of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues examined data collected about participants in the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study. Data related to stress and mental health was collected at ages 7, 11, 16, 23, 33 and 42. While at age 45, blood samples and blood pressure measures were collected and used to create a score called the cardiometabolic risk score, which indicates risk for heart disease and diabetes. After adjusting for a range of factors, results showed that participants who experienced high distress primarily in childhood and those with persistent distress had a significantly greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. “This study supports growing evidence that psychological distress contributes to excess risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease and that effects may be initiated relatively early in life,” said Winning. “This highlights the potentially lasting impact of childhood distress on adult physical health.”

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