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Study Finds Depressed Children Develop Heart Complications Later in Life

Update Date: Mar 18, 2013 02:49 PM EDT

One in 10 adult Americans suffer from depression, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and depression has been linked to being a contributing factor to several physical complications, such as heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases. According to a new study, these complications can be exacerbated if depression presents itself early on in children. The study done by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Pittsburgh found that childhood depression could lead to obesity, higher rates of smoking, and the tendency towards a sedentary lifestyle, which all contribute to cardiovascular issues later on in life.

The first author, Robert M. Carney, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University, and his colleagues looked at three different groups of children. The first group was composed of 201 children, aged nine and diagnosed with depression, taken from the 2004 study of the genetics behind depression. The second group was made up of 195 siblings of the first group of children and did not suffer from depression. The last group recruited 161 children, also aged nine that did not suffer from depression and did not have any relations with the first two groups.

The researchers looked at all of these children in 2011, with the majority of them turning 16-years-old. They found that 22 percent of the first group became obese and were the least physically active, living a very sedentary lifestyle. The obesity percentage dropped to 17 for the siblings group who were considered to have a moderate level of physical activity. The last group had a recorded 11 percent of obesity and was also considered to be the most active group. The last factor the researchers measured was smoking rates. They found that 33 percent of the depressed group became smokers, 13 percent of their siblings smoked, and 2.5 percent of the unrelated children smoked. Of the depressed group, only 15 percent of them reported to still suffer from depression, indicting that even after a remission, depression can have lasting effects on the body. The other groups did not develop depression between the study start and end dates. After factoring out other possible contributors, the researchers found that depression was linked to these three conditions, which multiply the risks for cardiac diseases significantly.

"Part of the reason this is so worrisome is that a number of recent studies have shown that when adolescents have these cardiac risk factors, they're much more likely to develop heart disease as adults and even to have a shorter lifespan," Carney said. "Active smokers as adolescents are twice as likely to die by the age of 55 than nonsmokers, and we see similar risks with obesity, so finding this link between childhood depression and these risk factors suggests that we need to very closely monitor young people who have been depressed."

Previous studies were effective in understanding the consequences of depression. But this study was able to link depression to these other factors in young adults and measure their likelihoods in developing heart diseases.

The study will be presented at the American Psychosomatic Society in Miami, FL. 

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