USF Psychologist: Childhood Depression May Lead to Heart Disease by Teen Years
Previous research could not determine how early in life the association between depression, heart disease could be detected
By Adam Freeman
TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 30, 2014) – Children with depression are more likely to be obese, smoke and be inactive, and can show the effects of heart disease as early as their teen years, according to a newly published study by University of South Florida Associate Professor of Psychology Jonathan Rottenberg.
The research, by Rottenberg and his colleagues at
Washington University and the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that
depression may increase the risk of heart problems later in life. The researchers also observed higher rates of
heart disease in the parents of adolescents that had been depressed as
children. The research is published
online in Psychosomatic Medicine and will be
included in the medical journal’s February 2014 issue.
“Given that the parents in this sample were relatively
young, we were quite surprised to find that the parents of the affected
adolescents were reporting a history of heart attacks and other serious
events,” Rottenberg explained.
Cardiologists and mental health professionals have long
known a link exists between depression and heart disease. Depressed adults are more likely to suffer a
heart attack, and if they do have a heart attack, it’s more likely to be
However it was unclear when the association between
clinical depression and cardiac risk develops, or how early in life the
association can be detected. These
findings suggest improved prevention and treatment of childhood depression
could reduce adult cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women- accounting for one in every four deaths in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the study, Rottenberg and his colleagues followed
up on Hungarian children who had participated in a 2004 study of the genetics
of depression. The researchers compared
heart disease risk factors - such as smoking, obesity, physical activity level,
and parental history - across three categories of adolescents.
The investigators surveyed more than 200
children with a history of clinical depression, as well as about 200 of their
siblings who have never suffered from depression. They also gathered information from more than
150 unrelated children of the same age and gender with no history of
Rottenberg plans to conduct additional research in order
to understand why depression early in life may put people at increased risk for
cardiovascular disease. Further studies
planned with the Hungarian group will also examine whether any early warning
signs of heart disease are present as these adolescents move into young
The full text of the study can be read here.
Rottenberg is a leading researcher in the area of emotion and psychopathology, where he has focused on major depression. His previous work covering on the causes and consequences of crying has received national and international media coverage. He’s also the author of the forthcoming book, The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic.
Adam Freeman is a media and public affairs coordinator for USF. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org