Stressed Teens at Risk of Heart Trouble Years Later

Stressed-out teens are likely to have more heart health risk factors in adulthood, a new study says.

Teens with elevated stress levels tended to have high blood pressure, obesity and other heart risk factors as they aged, compared to those teens with less stress, researchers found.

“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,” said researcher Fangqi Guo, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

“This could highlight the importance of stress management as early as in adolescence as a health protective behavior,” Guo added in a university news release.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from 276 participants in the Southern California Children’s Health Study, an ongoing research project that included follow-up health assessments at average ages 13 and 24 for participants.

The participants’ stress levels were measured using a perceived stress scale, and they were placed in one of four categories – consistently high stress, decreasing stress over time, increasing stress over time or consistently low stress.

Researcher found that teens who had higher levels of stress into adulthood were more likely to have higher total body fat, more fat around the belly and a higher overall risk of obesity as adults, researchers found.

They also tended to have worse blood vessel health and higher blood pressure in adulthood.

“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,” Guo said.

Guo suggests that doctors and pediatricians should consider screening for stress during check-ups.

“This way, those with higher stress levels can be identified and receive treatment earlier,” Guo said.

The new study was published Jan. 17 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

More information

Texas Children’s Hospital has more on the effects of toxic stress on children.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Jan. 17, 2023