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Study Links Unhappy Childhood to Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

On January 15, 2013, reports of a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health linked an unhappy childhood to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The study was conducted by a team of U.S. researchers led by Dr. Allison Appleton traced the lives of 377 children born to mothers from 1959-1966 who had participated in the Collaborative Perinatal Project.

Appleton and her team measured the emotional functioning of the children's distress proneness, attention, and self regulation while evaluating emotional behavior when participants were aged 7. Researchers then evaluated their cardiac function while participants had aged into their 40s. The study's findings determined a distinct link between poor emotional well being as a child led to a significant increase in developing cardiovascular disease during their 40s with percentage rates varying by gender. Females of the group who had grown up with high levels of distress at the age of seven had a 31 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease during their forties. Males of the group had a 17 percent increased risk.

The report found children exposed to and who had experienced distress as a result of adversity at the age of seven often had a "significantly higher" risk of cardiovascular disease during their later years. In Appleton's words: "We know that persistent distress can cause dysregulation of the stress response that is something we want to look at." Further research is expected to be conducted to determine the exact biological mechanisms.

The team also offered good news for children who had positive means of handling their experiences. Factors like increased physical activity, a healthy diet, and good parenting offered means of protecting future cardiac health.

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