Childhood Stress Can Lead to Adult Health Issues, Study Finds

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Stress. We have all experienced it. Sometimes it can be a positive force, motivating youngsters to perform well at a play, recital or when giving a speech. But sometimes for example when they are stuck for hours on their algebra homework it s a negative force. If you experience stress over a long period of time, it could become chronic, unless it's addressed.

A recent study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology presented findings that emotional distress during childhood increases the risk of developing heart disease and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes in adulthood.

"We know that the childhood period is really important for setting up trajectories of health and well-being," said Dr. Ashley Winning, an author of the study and postdoctoral research fellow in social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Winning and her colleagues analyzed a data of almost 7,000 people who were part of the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study. For this long-term analysis, they documented the diets, habits and emotional health of thousands of British children born during the same week of that year. In a school setting, the teachers completed a 146-item assessment based on every child s signs and symptoms of distress.

An example of a question asked: Was this child tearful or sad? Then teachers evaluated each child at the ages of seven, 11, and 16. As time passed, all the participants completed their own assessments of stress in their lives at the ages of 23, 33, and 42.

When the participants reached 45, researchers asked them to undergo a biomedical assessment to measure the markers of metabolic and cardiovascular health and immune function. Dr. Winning and her colleagues found that those with persistent distress specifically, present both in childhood and adulthood had the highest risk of cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, another group, adults who had experienced high-stress periods as youngsters, but whose stress levels fell as adults, were also at risk for chronic illness, a finding the researchers did not expect.

The team therefore concluded that when people experience stress during their childhood years it changes aspects of their biological composition. The idea that stress may influence how genes get switched on or off may initiate some other physiological effects.

Though stress may sometimes be beneficial when performance is enhanced due to the positive effects of anticipatory anxiety prolonged stress, especially stemming from childhood, may lead to long-term chronic physiological issues.