Objective: Adverse experiences in childhood may influence cardiovascular risk in adulthood. We examined the prospective associations between types of psychosocial adversity and having multiple adversities (e.g., cumulative risk) with carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) and its progression among young adults. Higher cumulative risk score in childhood was expected to be associated with higher IMT and its progression.
Methods: Participants were 2265 men and women (age range, 24-39 years in 2001) from the ongoing Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns study whose carotid IMTs were measured in 2001 and 2007. A cumulative psychosocial risk score, assessed at the study baseline in 1980, was derived from four separate aspects of the childhood environment that may impose risk (childhood stressful life events, parental health behavior family, socioeconomic status, and childhood emotional environment).
Results: The cumulative risk score was associated with higher IMT in 2007 (b = 0.004, standard error [SE] = 0.001, p < .001) and increased IMT progression from 2001 to 2007 (b = 0.003, SE = 0.001, p = .001). The associations were robust to adjustment for conventional cardiovascular risk factors in childhood and adulthood, including adulthood health behavior, adulthood socioeconomic status, and depressive symptoms. Among the individual childhood psychosocial risk categories, having more stressful life events was associated with higher IMT in 2001 (b = 0.007, SE = 0.003, p = .016) and poorer parental health behavior predicted higher IMT in 2007 (b = 0.004, SE = 0.002, p = .031) after adjustment for age, sex, and childhood cardiovascular risk factors.
Conclusions: Early life psychosocial environment influences cardiovascular risk later in life, and considering cumulative childhood risk factors may be more informative than individual factors in predicting progression of preclinical atherosclerosis in adulthood.