Children from the poorest families show signs of thicker carotid artery walls that may raise their risk for heart attack and stroke as adults, according to data from a longitudinal study of more than 1,000 families in Australia.
“Understanding when associations between SEP [socioeconomic position] and CVD [cardiovascular disease] first appear may help address the increasing social gradients in CVD outcomes and risk factors,” wrote, MD, of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Parkville, Australia, and colleagues.
The researchers reviewed data from 1,477 families in Australia. Socioeconomic position of the children’s families was measured biennially at age 0-1 year and onward, and the researchers used imaging to measure the right carotid arteries of children between age 11 and 12 years. Overall, children in the lowest socioeconomic quartile at age 11-12 years were 46% more likely than those in the highest quartile to have thicker carotid arteries (defined as greater than the 75th percentile).
“In univariable analyses, each quartile increment higher of family SEP was associated with a 3.7-micrometer thicker carotid intima-media thickness [IMT],” and the association remained significant in a multivariate analysis controlling for cardiovascular risk factors including secondhand smoke, body weight, and blood pressure, the researchers wrote.
The socioeconomic status of the family had a greater impact than that of the neighborhood, they noted.
In addition, low socioeconomic status of a child’s family at age 2-3 years was associated with thickness in carotid artery measurements at age 11-12 years.
The study findings were limited by several factors, including a lack of data on the clinical consequences of increased carotid thickness in children, as well as the need for investigation of other signs of subclinical atherosclerosis, the researchers said. However, “consistent evidence showed an association between SEP from early life and midchildhood carotid IMT,” and additional research is needed to explore the impact of household factors on childhood health, they emphasized.
The findings were published online Aug. 9 in the Journal of the American Heart Association (J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6:e005925).
The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and several research institutions. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.