Tears and tantrums in childhood raise risk of heart attacks and strokes in middle age (especially in girls)
Girls who experienced distress as seven-year-olds had a 31% increased risk of heart disease in their 40sPersistent unhappiness is known to activate the stress response in the body

Claire Bates


14:14 GMT, 4 February 2013



17:02 GMT, 4 February 2013

Ongoing feelings of distress during childhood could raise the risk of heart attacks and stroke in middle age

Ongoing feelings of distress during childhood could raise the risk of heart attacks and stroke in middle age

Children who are prone to having tantrums could be at higher risk of heart disease when they hit middle age, say researchers.

A study found those who often got upset when they were seven had a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke in their early 40s – and the effect was most pronounced in women.

Conversely, youngsters who could stay calm and focused had a lower risk later in life.

While experiencing high levels of
distress at seven was associated with a 31 per cent increased risk of
heart disease in women, it was 17 per cent in men.

study, led by Dr Allison Appleton from Harvard Medical School, looked
at 377 adults who had undergone emotional behaviour tests as children.

results were then compared with a risk score for cardiovascular disease
and other controlling factors were taken into account.

For women in their 40s their chances of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years increased from 3.2 per cent to 4.2 per cent if they had a distressed childhood. It rose from 7.3 to 8.5 per cent for men.

The team are now keen to do further work to better understand this link and whether a biological mechanism underpins the finding.

'We know that persistent distress can cause dysregulation of the stress response and that is something we want to look at,' Dr Appleton told the BBC.

The findings add to a growing number of studies that have found negative experiences in early-life can have a long-lasting effect.

Last year, researchers at Harvard revealed that early childhood adversity can trigger a toxic stress response in
children’s bodies and brains, leaving them at higher risk for problems
in learning, behaviour, and health throughout their lifetimes.

Meanwhile scientists from Plymouth University revealed parents who smacked or shouted at their children increased their risk of developing cancer, heart disease and asthma. They said the actions had the same long term health implications as serious abuse and trauma.

The controversial study, published in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine, suggested the link could be caused because smacking and shouting at children causes them stress.

Study leader, Professor Michael Hyland said: 'Our research
adds a new perspective on the increasing evidence that the use of
corporal punishment can contribute to childhood stress, and when it
becomes a stressor, corporal punishment contributes to poor outcomes
both for the individual concerned and for society.'

The latest research was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.