Childhood depression could increase risk of heart disease later in life

A child who is depressed is more likely than his or her peers to smoke cigarettes, be obese and lead an inactive lifestyle as a teenager, suggests new research from Washington University School of Medicine. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of heart disease and can shorten the child’s lifespan. 

In a press release from Washington University, Robert M. Carney, Ph.D., first author and professor of psychiatry, said:

Active smokers as adolescents are twice as likely to die by the age of 55 than non-smokers, 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.

The children were originally participants in a 2004 study of the genetics of depression, and fell into one of three groups: those with a history of clinical depression, their siblings with no history of depression and an unrelated group matched for age and gender who also had no history of depression. Their average age was nine-years-old.

In 2011, the children were again surveyed, with a focus on rates of smoking, obesity and physical activity. Among those teenagers who had been depressed as children, 22 percent were obese and one-third were smokers. They were also less physically active than the other two groups. Among their siblings and the control group, 17 percent and 11 percent were obese, respectively. Thirteen percent of the siblings were daily smokers, while only 2.5 percent of the control group smoked.  

The researchers also found that the risk factors for cardiac disease were more prevalent among those teenagers who had been depressed as children, whether or not they were currently depressed. 

While the link between depression and cardiac disease is well established among adults, this study suggests that preventive steps could be taken much earlier to mitigate cardiac risk factors. 

The findings were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society on March 15.