Context: Exposure to cardiovascular risk factors during childhood and adolescence may be associated with the development of atherosclerosis later in life.
Objective: To study the relationship between cardiovascular risk factors measured in childhood and adolescence and common carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT), a marker of preclinical atherosclerosis, measured in adulthood.
Design, setting, and participants: Population-based, prospective cohort study conducted at 5 centers in Finland among 2229 white adults aged 24 to 39 years who were examined in childhood and adolescence at ages 3 to 18 years in 1980 and reexamined 21 years later, between September 2001 and January 2002.
Main outcome measures: Association between cardiovascular risk variables (levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol [LDL-C], high-density lipoprotein cholesterol [HDL-C], and triglycerides; LDL-C/HDL-C ratio; systolic and diastolic blood pressure; body mass index; smoking) measured in childhood and adulthood and common carotid artery IMT measured in adulthood.
Results: In multivariable models adjusted for age and sex, IMT in adulthood was significantly associated with childhood LDL-C levels (P =.001), systolic blood pressure (P<.001), body mass index (P =.007), and smoking (P =.02), and with adult systolic blood pressure (P<.001), body mass index (P<.001), and smoking (P =.004). The number of risk factors measured in 12- to 18-year-old adolescents, including high levels (ie, extreme age- and sex-specific 80th percentile) of LDL-C, systolic blood pressure, body mass index, and cigarette smoking, were directly related to carotid IMT measured in young adults at ages 33 through 39 years (P<.001 for both men and women), and remained significant after adjustment for contemporaneous risk variables. The number of risk factors measured at ages 3 to 9 years demonstrated a weak direct relationship with carotid IMT at ages 24 to 30 years in men (P =.02) but not in women (P =.63).
Conclusions: Risk factor profile assessed in 12- to 18-year-old adolescents predicts adult common carotid artery IMT independently of contemporaneous risk factors. These findings suggest that exposure to cardiovascular risk factors early in life may induce changes in arteries that contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.