Children with depression are more likely to be obese, smoke and be inactive, and can show the effects of heart disease as early as their teen years, a new study has warned.
Depression may increase the risk of heart problems later in life, according to the study by University of South Florida Associate Professor of Psychology Jonathan Rottenberg and his colleagues at Washington University and the University of Pittsburgh.
The researchers also observed higher rates of heart disease in the parents of adolescents that had been depressed as children.
“Given that the parents in this sample were relatively young, we were quite surprised to find that the parents of the affected adolescents were reporting a history of heart attacks and other serious events,” Rottenberg said.
Cardiologists and mental health professionals have long known a link exists between depression and heart disease.
Depressed adults are more likely to suffer a heart attack, and if they do have a heart attack, it’s more likely to be fatal.
However it was unclear when the association between clinical depression and cardiac risk develops, or how early in life the association can be detected.
These findings suggest improved prevention and treatment of childhood depression could reduce adult cardiovascular disease.
During the study, Rottenberg and his colleagues followed up on Hungarian children who had participated in a 2004 study of the genetics of depression.
The researchers compared heart disease risk factors – such as smoking, obesity, physical activity level, and parental history – across three categories of adolescents.
The investigators surveyed more than 200 children with a history of clinical depression, as well as about 200 of their siblings who have never suffered from depression.
They also gathered information from more than 150 unrelated children of the same age and gender with no history of depression.
Further studies planned will examine whether any early warning signs of heart disease are present as the adolescents move into young adulthood.
The research is published in Psychosomatic Medicine.