By tracking more than 38 000 participants from childhood for fifty years, researchers have uncovered direct evidence that the five cardiovascular risk factors when present in childhood predicted cardiovascular risk in adulthood.
Body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and youth smoking, particularly in combination in early childhood, were clinically linked with cardiovascular events that predict poor cardiovascular health in adults.
The international study conducted by the International Childhood Cardiovascular Consortium (i3C) and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the increased cardiovascular risk began as early as 40 years of age.
Paper co-author Prof Terence Dwyer at the University of Oxford commented: “Despite the effect medical and surgical care have had on treating heart disease, achieving the greatest possible reduction in the heart disease burden will depend on including preventive strategies that commence in childhood.”
The findings confirm that prevention must start in childhood. “Longitudinal studies like these have been hampered by a lack of inclusion of comprehensive childhood data around body measurements, blood pressure, and blood lipids and a failure to follow-up at ages when cardiovascular disease becomes common.”
The study involved 38 589 participants from Australia, Finland and the US, who were followed from age 3-19 years for a period of 35-50 years.
The results showed that increased risk for cardiovascular events was seen in over half the children, with those having the highest risk factor levels, at 9 times the risk for an event as for children with below average risk factors.
“While this evidence had not been available previously, the findings were not entirely surprising as it had been known for some time that children as young as five already showed early signs of fatty deposits in arteries. This new evidence justified a greater emphasis on programs to prevent the development of these risk factors in children. Clinicians and public health professionals should now start to focus on how this might best be achieved,” Prof Dwyer concluded.