redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online
Children who are suffering from depression have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease later on in life, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Miami, Florida on Friday.
The study, which was prepared by scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Pittsburgh, reports teenagers who suffered clinical depression when they were children were more likely than other people their age to smoke cigarettes, suffer from obesity, or lead sedentary lives.
Furthermore, that likelihood was present even if the teens had overcome their depression. The findings suggested depression, even at a young age, could increase the risk that heart problems will eventually surface, they added.
“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,” first author Robert M. Carney, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University, explained.
“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,” Carney added in a statement.
While medical experts have long known adults suffering from depression were more likely to have a heart attack or related cardiac event, it has not yet been established when other risk factors for these ailments — including smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyle — combine with depression to increase the risk for heart problems.
“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 says. “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 Washington University professor and his colleagues looked at children who had taken part in a 2004 study of the genetics of depression. The study investigators surveyed 201 children with a history of clinical depression and 195 siblings with no such history, as well as 161 unrelated age- and gender-matched children with no history of depression. The average age of the participants was nine at the time of the study.
Seven years later, the researchers surveyed the subjects once again, focusing specifically on the rates of smoking, obesity and physical activity in all three groups. According to Carney, 22 percent of the depressed youngsters were obese by age 16 versus just 17 percent for their siblings and just 11 percent in the unrelated children. He said he and his colleagues discovered similar patterns in the other categories as well.
“A third of those who were depressed as children had become daily smokers, compared to 13 percent of their nondepressed siblings and only 2.5 percent of the control group,” he said. Likewise, the teens who had struggled with depression were also the least physically active, followed by their siblings. The members of the third, control group were the most active, they discovered.
Further analysis and the use of statistical methods eliminated other possible causes for the increased smoking and obesity rates, strengthening their belief depression was the cause of the phenomenon. Depressed children were 2.5 times more likely than their siblings to smoke, and heart disease risk factors were also more common in children who had been depressed — whether or not they still suffered from the symptoms at an advanced age.
“Depression seems to come first,” Carney said. “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.”