Association of Non-High-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Measured in Adolescence, Young Adulthood, and Mid-Adulthood With Coronary Artery Calcification Measured in Mid-Adulthood

JAMA Cardiol. 2021 Jun 1;6(6):661-668. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.7238.


Importance: Elevated non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C) is associated with the presence of coronary artery calcification (CAC), a marker of heart disease in adulthood. However, the relative importance of non-HDL-C levels at specific life stages for CAC remains unclear.

Objective: To identify the relative association of non-HDL-C measured at distinct life stages (adolescence, young adulthood, mid-adulthood) with the presence of CAC measured in mid-adulthood.

Design, setting, and participants: The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study is a population-based prospective cohort study that started in 1980 with follow-up over 28 years. Participants from 3 population centers (Kuopio, Tampere, and Turku in Finland) represent a convenience sample drawn from the 3 oldest cohorts at baseline (aged 12-18 years in 1980). Data were collected from September 1980 to August 2008. Analysis began February 2020.

Exposures: Non-HDL-C levels were measured at 3 life stages including adolescence (aged 12-18 years), young adulthood (aged 21-30 years), and mid-adulthood (aged 33-45 years).

Main outcomes and measures: In 2008, CAC was determined from computed tomography and dichotomized as 0 (no CAC, Agatston score = 0) and 1 (presence of CAC, Agatston score ≥1) for analysis. Using a bayesian relevant life course exposure model, the relative association was determined between non-HDL-C at each life stage and the presence of CAC in mid-adulthood.

Results: Of 589 participants, 327 (56%) were female. In a model adjusted for year of birth, sex, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, blood glucose level, smoking status, lipid-lowering and antihypertensive medication use, and family history of heart disease, cumulative exposure to non-HDL-C across all life stages was associated with CAC (odds ratio [OR], 1.50; 95% credible interval [CrI], 1.14-1.92). At each life stage, non-HDL-C was associated with CAC and exposure to non-HDL-C during adolescence had the strongest association (adolescence: OR, 1.16; 95% CrI, 1.01-1.46; young adulthood: OR, 1.14; 95% CrI, 1.01-1.43; mid-adulthood: OR, 1.12; 95% CrI, 1.01-1.34).

Conclusions and relevance: These data suggest that elevated non-HDL-C levels at all life stages are associated with coronary atherosclerosis in mid-adulthood. However, adolescent non-HDL-C levels showed the strongest association with the presence of CAC in mid-adulthood, and greater awareness of the importance of elevated non-HDL-C in adolescence is needed.