Children from poorer families with an increased risk of heart disease

Doctors are studying the narrowing of the neck arteries in children
A narrowing of the neck arteries in childhood can lead to an increased risk of heart disease in adulthood. Researchers have now found that children from financially disadvantaged families have an increased risk of signs of narrowing of the cervical arteries.

In their study, the University of Melbourne scientists found that children from poorer families are more likely to experience narrowing of the neck arteries. This narrowing can lead to an increased likelihood of heart disease later in life. The experts published the results of their study in the medical journal "Journal of the American Heart Association".

Doctors examine almost 1,500 subjects
In their current study, the researchers examined almost 1,500 children from Australian families. The study looked for evidence that an increased risk of heart disease can start at a young age. Ultrasonography was performed in the children every two years to measure the thickness of the right carotid artery wall.

Are children from financially disadvantaged families more prone to unhealthy arteries?
It is already known that financially disadvantaged adults have a higher risk of heart disease compared to wealthy people. So far, however, it was not clear whether children from poor families are more likely to develop unhealthy arteries, which can be an early warning sign of later heart diseases, the researchers explain.

Carotid arteries in the children were regularly examined with the help of ultrasound
The results suggest that socio-economic status during the first ten years of life can affect the development of subclinical atherosclerosis. Subclinical atherosclerosis refers to an early phase of narrowing in the arteries and is an indicator of an increased risk of heart disease, the researchers report. In the current study, the so-called carotid arteries of children were particularly considered. These arteries pass through the neck and deliver blood to the brain. With the help of ultrasound, the carotid arteries are easy to examine, say the doctors. A substantial thickening in the walls of these arteries could signal subclinical atherosclerosis.

Children from poor households are more likely to suffer from thickening of the carotid artery walls
The results of the study show that eleven and twelve year old children from financially disadvantaged families have an increased thickening in the carotid artery walls. In addition, the blood vessels of these children appeared to be more than eight years older than their actual age, the experts explain. In adults, thickening of the carotid arteries is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, emphasizes author David Burgner.

More research is needed
However, the study cannot prove a direct cause and effect relationship. Further research is needed to better understand such a relationship, the researchers say. If the children were in the top 25 percent with the largest wall thickness of the carotid artery, the researchers assigned them to a higher risk. In adults who fall into this category, there is almost twice the risk of heart disease and stroke compared to adults from the 25 percent with the lowest wall thickness, the researchers report.

How does financial disadvantage affect children's health?
When eleven or twelve year old children come from financially disadvantaged families, they are 46 percent more likely to fall into the higher risk group compared to children from high income families, the researchers found. Disadvantaged children were also more likely to suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and were more frequently exposed to so-called passive smoking. However, these factors do not explain the results of the arterial examination, the scientists say.

Are infections the cause of health problems?
Disadvantaged children get more infections and tend to develop them earlier in their lives. Frequent infections can cause inflammation in the body, the doctors explain. These can then contribute to atherosclerosis. Children benefit from a healthy diet and regular exercise, which keep weight and blood pressure at a normal level. It is also important here that nutritious food is made more accessible to low-income families. (as)

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