Parents, read this carefully. Children who experience trauma, abuse, neglect and family dysfunction are at increased risk of having heart disease in their 50s and 60s, warn researchers.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study showed people exposed to the highest levels of childhood family environment adversity were more than 50 per cent more likely to have a cardiovascular disease event such as a heart attack or stroke over a 30-year follow-up.
"This population of adults is much more likely to partake in risky behaviours - for example, using food as a coping mechanism, which can lead to problems with weight and obesity," said first author Jacob Pierce from Northwestern University in the US.
"They also have higher rates of smoking, which has a direct link to cardiovascular disease," Pierce added.
The longitudinal research of more than 3,600 participants described the trajectory of cardiovascular disease and death based on family environment ratings from young adulthood into older middle age.
Children who experience this type of adversity are predisposed to higher rates of lifelong stress, smoking, anxiety, depression and sedentary lifestyle that persist into adulthood.
These can lead to increased body mass index (BMI), diabetes, increased blood pressure, vascular dysfunction and inflammation, the researchers said.
The findings showed that adults who were exposed to these risk factors as children may benefit from counselling on the link between coping with stress and controlling smoking and obesity, but more research is needed.
"Early childhood experiences have a lasting effect on adult mental and physical well-being, and a large number of American kids continue to suffer abuse and dysfunction that will leave a toll of health and social functioning issues throughout their lives," said senior author Joseph Feinglass.
"Social and economic support for young children in the US, which is low by the standards of other developed countries, has the biggest 'bang for the buck' of any social programme," Feinglass noted.