The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.
Young adults who reported higher stress during their teenage years to adulthood were more likely to have high blood pressure, obesity, and other cardiometabolic risk factors than their peers who reported less stress, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Cardiometabolic risk factors often occur together and are a significant cause of cardiovascular disease. These include obesity, type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, researchers noted.
“Understanding the effects of perceived stress starting in childhood is important for preventing, lessening or managing higher cardiometabolic risk factors in young adults,” said study author Fangqi Guo, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
“Our findings suggest that perceived stress patterns over time have a far-reaching effect on various cardiometabolic measures including fat distribution, vascular health and obesity,” Guo said. “This could highlight the importance of stress management as early as in adolescence as a health protective behavior.”
For this study, researchers analyzed health information from the Southern California Children’s Health Study. Participants had enrolled in the study as children along with their parents, then participated in follow-up assessments as adolescents—average age 13—and as young adults—average age 24.
At each stage, stress was measured with a four-item Perceived Stress Scale, a questionnaire about feelings and thoughts during the last month. Study participants were categorized into four risk-based groups: consistently high stress over time, decreasing stress over time, increasing stress over time, and consistently low stress over time.
To evaluate cardiometabolic risk in young adulthood, Guo and colleagues used measures of carotid artery intima-media thickness (measures neck artery thickness); systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure; weight, percentage of body fat and fat distribution; and hemoglobin A1c.
The analysis found that consistently high perceived stress from adolescence through adulthood was associated with a greater risk for cardiometabolic diseases in young adulthood. If individuals experienced greater 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 higher risk of obesity compared to those who felt less stressed over time.
A limitation was the study’s relatively small size of 276 people. Studies with more participants would help clarify the results.