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Childhood CV health tied to reduced risk later in life



Two observational studies link better cardiovascular health (CVH) in childhood and midlife to reduced CV mortality and subclinical atherosclerosis in later life. Though many studies have examined CVH and CV mortality in later life, the two studies, published in JAMA Cardiology, examine longitudinal CVH and could inform lifestyle modification.

Together, the studies lend support to the American Heart Association 2010 Strategic Initiative, which put an emphasis on health promotion in children rather than CV disease prevention, Erica Spatz, MD, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Dr. Spatz pointed out that CV disease prevention can be a tough sell, especially in younger patients for whom the threat of heart disease is distant. These studies and others like them could capture evolving risk factors through patients’ lives, and connect them to current lifestyle and experiences. Such data could overcome barriers to behavioral change and lead to more personalized interventions, she wrote.

Framingham Offspring Study

One study, led by Vanessa Xanthakis, PhD, of Boston University, examined the relationship between the length of time during midlife spent in ideal CVH and various CV disease and mortality outcomes at the final examination.

The prospective study included 1,445 participants (mean age 60 years, 52% women) from a Framingham Heart Study Offspring investigation based in Massachusetts. The subjects had completed seven examinations. The current study ranged from 1991 to 2015, and encompassed the fifth, sixth, and seventh examinations. Researchers calculated CVH scores based on resting blood pressure, height, weight, total cholesterol level, fasting blood glucose level, smoking status, diet, and physical activity.

At the seventh examination, 39% of participants had poor CVH scores and 54% had intermediate scores. For each 5-year period of intermediate or ideal CVH (compared with poor) measured in previous examinations, during the follow-up period after the seventh examination, there was an associated reduction in risk for adverse outcomes including incident hypertension (hazard ratio, 0.67; 95% confidence interval, 056-0.80), diabetes (HR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.57-0.93), chronic kidney disease (HR, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.63-0.89), CV disease (HR, 0.73; 95% CI, 0.63-0.85), and all-cause mortality (HR, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.76-0.97).

“Our results indicated that living longer in adulthood with better CVH may be potentially beneficial regardless of age because we did not observe statistically significant effect modification by age of the associations between duration in a given CVH score category and any outcome. Overall, our findings support the importance of promoting healthy behaviors throughout the life course,” the authors wrote.

The study was limited by several factors. Diet and physical activity were self-reported, and about half of participants were excluded after missing an examination, which could introduce bias.

International cohort study

The second study analyzed data from 9,388 individuals in five prospective cohorts in the United States and Finland. During 1973-2015, it tracked participants from childhood through middle age (age 8-55 years), linking CVH measures to subclinical atherosclerosis as measured by carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) in middle age. Led by Norrina Allen, PhD, of the Northwestern University, Chicago, the researchers measured body mass index, total cholesterol level, blood pressure, glucose level, diet, physical activity, and smoking status during a minimum of three examinations. Based on those data, they classified participants as having ideal, intermediate, or poor CVH.

The researchers grouped the participants into five CVH trajectories: High-late decline, which started with high CVH scores at age 8 and maintained them through early adulthood (16%); high-moderate decline (high early scores, moderate decline; 26%); high-early decline (high early scores, early-life decline; 32%); intermediate-late decline (intermediate initial scores, late decline; 16%); and intermediate-early decline (10%). CVH stratification began early: At age 8, 25% of individuals had intermediate CVH scores.

After adjustment for demographics and baseline smoking, diet, and physical activity, the high-late decline CVH group had the smallest mean cIMT value (0.64 mm; 95 % CI, 0.63-0.65 mm), while the intermediate-early decline group, which had the poorest CVH, had the largest (0.72 mm; 95% CI, 0.69-0.76 mm; P less than .001). The relationship was the same even after adjustment for baseline or proximal CVH scores, showing that the trajectory of CVH scores was driving the measure of subclinical atherosclerosis.

“Although it remains important to provide treatment to individuals with elevated risk factor levels, the most effective way to reduce the burden of future CV disease may be to prevent the development of those CV disease risk factors, an approach termed primordial prevention. There is a large body of literature showing effective interventions that may help individuals maintain ideal CV health. Our findings suggest that these interventions are critical and should be implemented early in life to prevent the loss of CVH and future CV [disease] development,” the authors wrote.

The study’s limitations include the fact that analyzed cohorts were drawn from studies with varying protocols and CVH measurement methods. It is also limited by its observational nature.

The two studies were funded by a range of nonindustry sources.

SOURCES: Allen N et al. JAMA Cardiol. 2020 Mar 11. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.0140; Corlin N et al. JAMA Cardiol. 2020 Mar 11. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.0109.

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