Children from poorer families show signs of worsening heart health at an early age, based on a recent study that links lower socioeconomic status to thicker arteries in children aged 11–12.
Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study looked at the impact of both family and neighborhood socioeconomic status on children’s heart health. The goal was to see how early socioeconomic status begins to affect children’s risk for heart disease—the leading killer of men and women in the United States.
This study analyzed data from the Child Health CheckPoint Study, which tracks the health of Australian children as they grow from childhood to adolescence. It included 1,477 children, all of which underwent ultrasound imaging between ages 11 and 12 to measure plaque build-up in their arteries. The imaging assessed carotid intima-media thickness, which measures thickening of the main arteries in the neck and can be an early sign of heart disease.
Overall, researchers found that children from poorer families had significantly thicker arteries by ages 11 and 12 than those with higher socioeconomic status. In this study, socioeconomic status included factors like income, education and occupation, all of which are closely tied to health outcomes.
Children with the lowest socioeconomic status were 46% more likely to have dangerous thickening in the arteries compared to children in families with average income. As experts explain, that means poorer children have arteries that look 8 years older than those from families with higher income.
Interestingly, authors also note that neighborhood socioeconomic status did not have as strong of an association with children’s heart health as their family did.
The take-home message, according to authors, is that socioeconomic position in the first ten years of life can have a lasting impact on heart health. It’s likely that access to health care and lifestyle factors like diet and exercise are some of the driving forces behind this increased risk. Experts stress the importance of both increased education and policy change to help promote better health among disadvantaged families. With heart disease as the leading killer of Americans, experts highlight the need to address cardiovascular risk as early as possible to help reduce children’s future risk for heart disease.