Childhood depression tied to adult heart disease


Teens who are depressed are more likely to be obese, smoke cigarettes, lead sedentary lives and suffer from cardiac disease – even if they no longer suffer from depression as adults.

“Part of the reason this is so worrisome is that a number of recent studies have shown that when adolescents have these cardiac risk factors, they’re much more likely to develop heart disease as adults and even to have a shorter lifespan,” said first author Robert M. Carney, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University.

“Active smokers as adolescents are twice as likely to die by the age of 55 than nonsmokers, and we see similar risks with obesity, so finding this link between childhood depression and these risk factors suggests that we need to very closely monitor young people who have been depressed.”

When do the long-term adverse effects of depression start?

“We know that depression in adults is associated with heart disease and a higher risk of dying from a heart attack or having serious complications,” Carney noted. “What we didn’t know is at what stage of life we would begin to see evidence of this association between depression and these cardiac risk factors.”

The children originally participated in a 2004 study of genetics of depression. At that time, they were 9 years old. The depressed children and their non-depressed siblings were surveyed. At age 16, the children were contacted again. They were asked about smoking, obesity and physical activity.

“Of the kids who were depressed at age 9, 22 percent were obese at age 16,” Carney said. “Only 17 percent of their siblings were obese, and the obesity rate was 11 percent in the unrelated children who never had been depressed.” Similar statistics occurred for smoking and physical activity.

Causal or coincidence?

“Depression seems to come first. It’s playing an important, if not a causal, role. There may be some related genetic influences that give rise to both depression and to heart disease, or at least to these types of cardiac risk behaviors, but more study will be required before we can draw any firm conclusions about that,” Carney concluded.

Source: Washington University School of Medicine, MedicalNewsToday


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