Background: Exposure to risk factors in childhood may have long-term influences on vascular function. We examined the relationship between risk factors identified in childhood and arterial elasticity assessed in adulthood.
Methods and results: Carotid artery compliance (CAC), Young's elastic modulus (YEM), and stiffness index (SI), 3 measures of large-artery elasticity, were assessed with noninvasive ultrasound in 2255 healthy white adults aged 24 to 39 years participating in a population-based cohort study and who had risk factor data available since childhood. In multivariate models, childhood obesity (skinfold thickness) predicted decreased CAC (P<0.001), increased YEM (P<0.01), and increased SI (P<0.01) in adulthood. Childhood blood pressure was inversely associated with CAC (P<0.001) and directly associated with YEM (P<0.001). The number of risk factors identified in childhood, which included high LDL cholesterol (at or above 80th percentile), elevated blood pressure, skinfold thickness, low HDL cholesterol (at or below 20th percentile), and smoking, was related inversely with CAC (P<0.001) and directly with YEM (P<0.001). These associations remained highly significant after adjustment for the number of risk factors identified in adulthood (P=0.005 for CAC and P<0.001 for YEM).
Conclusions: Cardiovascular risk factors identified in childhood and adolescence predict decreased carotid artery elasticity in adulthood. These data suggest that risk factors operating in early life may have sustained deleterious effects on arterial elasticity.