Childhood Poverty May Predict Heart Failure in Adulthood

From - June 26, 2017

Childhood Poverty May Predict Heart Failure in Adulthood

MONDAY, June 26, 2017 -- Growing up poor might put you at risk for heart failure in adulthood, a new study suggests.

Heart failure, a progressive condition, means the heart is not pumping as well as it should. This causes fatigue and shortness of breath, and can make everyday activities difficult to carry out.

Finnish researchers looked at household income for hundreds of children in 1980. The findings showed that kids from poor families were more likely than richer children to have an enlarged, poorly functioning lower left heart chamber -- a sign of heart failure -- three decades later.

The results are not surprising, health experts say.

"There are continuing socioeconomic inequalities in health across generations and across countries," said Rebecca Hardy, from the Institute of Epidemiology and Health at University College London in England.

Hardy, who is with the Lifelong Health and Aging unit, added that poverty "has shown to be consistently related to cardiovascular disease and other health outcomes in adulthood." These associations cannot be entirely explained by adult employments and earnings, she said.

Although it is not clear how low income might lead to heart damage, she said obesity, poor health habits or the emotional environment within the family could play a role.

The study ca not actually prove that poverty led to poor heart health, but this association remained even after researchers took into account age, sex, standard risk factors for heart disease, and participants' earnings as adults, the researchers said.

More research is needed to find the best ways to target these income and health inequalities, as they may vary from place to place, noted Hardy, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

She voiced a note of caution, however. While evidence suggests it's important to target these gaps early in life, she said, "we need to be careful that interventions aimed at improving the health across the whole population do not, inadvertently, increase inequalities."

Dr. Byron Lee is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

"There is something about being poor during childhood that leads to a thickened, impaired heart 30 years later," said Lee.

The next step is to figure out the exact cause, he said. "Is it childhood diet, stress or other environmental factors? Currently, this is unknown," according to Lee.

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