It’s well-known that experiencing stress in childhood can have lasting effects on people’s health. Now, a new study shows that young adults who experienced higher stress during their teenage years to adulthood are more likely to have high blood pressure, obesity and other cardiometabolic risk factors.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, highlights the importance of understanding the effects of perceived stress experienced in childhood to prevent, reduce or manage higher cardiometabolic risk factors in young adults. Cardiometabolic risk factors include obesity, Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are significant causes of cardiovascular disease, the researchers said in a press statement.
The findings show that perceived stress patterns can significantly affect several cardiometabolic measures including fat distribution, vascular health and obesity over time. Hence, the study indicates the importance of stress management as early as adolescence as a health-protective behaviour, the statement explained.
For this study, the researchers reviewed data on 276 people from Southern California communities participating in the Southern California Children's Health Study.
The results revealed that if people experienced higher levels of stress from their teenage years into adulthood, they were more likely to have worse vascular health, higher total body fat, more fat around the belly and a higher risk of obesity compared to those who experienced less stress, the statement revealed. Furthermore, adults who experience higher levels of stress are likely to have higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
“Although we assumed that perceived stress patterns should have some association with cardiometabolic measures, we did not expect such consistent patterns across various risk factors," study author Fanqi Guo said in the statement.
Previous studies have also shown a link between stress and blood pressure as well as heart issues. For instance, a 2021 study, published in the journal Hypertension, showed that higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke.
The new study’s researchers have advised that healthcare professionals should consider using the Perceived Stress Scale to examine people’s stress levels during clinic visits. This could help identify those with higher stress levels so that they can receive treatment earlier.