APA Logo Childhood seems to decide our health conditions in the future. While a previous investigation claimed malnutrition in childhood to hamper brain function in later life, an article also suggested childhood abuse to cause pain disorders like migraine. Here is another tidbit that adds to the list. Scientists affirm that early life adversity through poverty, social isolation or abuse in childhood is correlated to increased reactivity triggering cardiovascular disease in later life.

Socioeconomic status (SES) is assumed to affect young adolescents’ more than younger children and older teenagers. Also accumulation of stress throughout the lifetime possibly elevates risk for disease. Stress may also lead to more hazardous effects during critical periods. The study was commenced on 212 teens aged between 14-16 years. These youngsters were enrolled for a period of three years to ascertain the link between living in areas of low socioeconomic status and more sensitivity to stress and early signs of heart disease.

Karen A. Matthews, PhD a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, alleged, “Many diseases first diagnosed in mid-life can be traced back to childhood. Having some bad health habits in your 20s and 30s is part of the reason why people get diseases later on. However, it isn’t the whole reason. The evidence shows that certain reactions to adverse childhood experiences associated with lower socioeconomic status, isolation and negative events can affect the disease process.”

Equal number of blacks and whites, females and males were encompassed in the study. None of the volunteers were obese and all were healthy. The onset of the disease was tracked down by checking the levels of carotid artery thickening, stiffness of arteries and blood pressure throughout the day and night.While evaluating the socioeconomic status, parental education, household income, the percentage of poor people living in the neighborhood, percentage of high school graduates and number of assets like cars, homes, number of bedrooms, insurance, loans and debts were taking into consideration.

Children belonging to families of lower socioeconomic status supposedly had stiffer arteries after many years. On the other hand, after analyzing for two days at school, those residing in impoverished neighborhoods reported higher blood pressure. It was also observed that blacks living in poor neighborhoods had more thickening in their carotid arteries. Experts suggested that thicker carotid arteries are related to later atherosclerosis in the heart.

Matthews highlighted, “Our data suggests that this age group is more vulnerable to cardiovascular risks if they are exposed to various stressors because of their hormonal changes and their sensitivity to peer rejection, acceptance and how they interpret others’ attitudes towards themselves.”

It was noted that individuals with higher diastolic blood pressure over the three-year period developed more thickening of their carotid walls. In order to determine the association between stressful childhood events and risk of cardiovascular disease, investigators scrutinized other studies also. While analyzing other investigations, scientists laid hands on a longitudinal study of 1,037 New Zealand children followed from birth to age 26. The study concluded that kids dwelling in social isolation had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease with higher blood glucose levels, overweight, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol levels in young adulthood.

Matthews elucidated, “Children who have minimal resources both from their families and communities grow up in unpredictable, stressful environments. Fewer resources make people more susceptible to negative effects of adversity. One way to adapt is to become hyper vigilant to head off potential threats. But the consequence of this is to then interpret events as threatening, even when they are not, and start to mistrust people. Interactions with others then become a source of stress, which can increase arousal, blood pressure, inflammation levels and deplete the body’s reserves. This sets up risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Social isolation was possibly measured on the basis of parents’ reports of children’s time being alone and not liked by friends and by children’s own reports of loneliness during adolescence and adulthood. Socioeconomic status, IQ, and unhealthy behaviors in childhood were apparently controlled for socioeconomic status by the authors. It can therefore be concluded that chronic social isolation across multiple developmental periods may have a cumulative effect and can trigger poor health in adulthood.

Investigators also found another study claiming low socioeconomic status to create an impact on children’s reactions to negative situations and, over time, elevate the risk of cardiovascular events. Around 201 children and adolescents aged 8 to 10 years and 15 to 17 years were encompassed in the investigation. While half the study subjects were white, the other half were black. The participants were presented with negative and ambiguous social situations.

Children coming from poorer homes reported different social situations even the ambiguous ones as threatening. These kids also registered higher blood pressure and heart rates and greater hostility and anger scores in three laboratory stress tasks. By simply improving the quality of education for these children, improving parenting skills particularly for single parents and building positive social relationships may seemingly decline stress reactions and lower the risks of disease.

The study was presented at the 118 the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.