Positive psychosocial experiences during childhood are linked to better cardiovascular health in adulthood, according to new research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
In fact, those with the most psychosocial advantages scored higher on an ideal cardiovascular health index in adulthood than those with the least psychosocial advantages.
Positive psychosocial factors include growing up in a family that practices healthy habits, is financially secure, provides a stable emotional environment, and helps children learn to control aggressiveness and impulsiveness and to fit in socially.
“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,” said senior author Laura Pulkki-Råback, Ph.D., research fellow at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
“For instance, if an unemployed parent gets steady employment, the effect may be huge. If he or she also quits smoking, the benefit is even greater. All efforts to improve family well-being are beneficial.”
The research involved 3,577 children between the ages of three and 18. They measured six factors: socioeconomic status, emotional stability, parental health behaviors, stressful events, self-regulation of behavioral problems, and social adjustment.
Twenty-seven years later, researchers evaluated 1,089 of the participants at 30-45 years old to determine their level of ideal cardiovascular health.
To measure participants’ cardiovascular health, researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7. This included the following factors: being active, controlling cholesterol, eating healthy, controlling blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar, and stopping smoking.
The researchers found that people with the most psychosocial advantages in childhood had:
- 14 percent greater chance of being at normal weight as an adult;
- 12 percent greater chance of being a non-smoker as an adult; and
- 11 percent greater chance to have a healthy glucose level as an adult.
Favorable socioeconomic status and self-regulatory behavior, meaning strong impulse control, in youth were the strongest predictors of ideal cardiovascular health in adulthood.
Positive early experiences appear to have cardiovascular health benefits for all people. The findings also show the importance of early life stages, periods during which other studies have found that cardiovascular diseases begin to take root.
“Scientific evidence supports the fact that investing in the well-being of children and families will be cost effective in the long run because it decreases healthcare costs at the other end of life (old age),” she said.
“The knowledge is out there, and now it is a question of values and priorities.”
Source: American Heart Association