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Heart Disease Health Center

Angry Children at Risk for Heart Disease

Helping Angry Children Become Flexible Is as Important as Diet, Exercise for Preventing Heart Disease
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WebMD Health News

May 19, 2003 -- We know it's true with adults: Frequent anger increases risk of heart disease. Now, a study shows that angry children -- as young as age 8 - develop early signs of heart disease.

"Heart disease starts in childhood," says lead researcher Kristen Salomon, PhD, social/health psychologist at University of South Florida at Tampa. Her study appears in this month's Health Psychology.

"We need to worry about obesity, exercise, diet," she tells WebMD. "Bad habits develop very early in life. But it's also important to focus on psychological factors, to find kids who are hostile, and help them deal with it."

A handful of studies have suggested that heart disease can begin in early childhood, gets worse with age, and that it is closely tied with weight gain and obesity in childhood -- the result of poor health habits. This is perhaps the first study pointing to hostility as an aggravating factor for children's heart health.

In her study, Salomon focused on 134 children -- between 8-to-10 and 15-to-17 years old -- all recruited from schools in suburban Pittsburgh. "These were healthy, normal kids. We screened them for psychological problems, so these were not pathologically disturbed children," she tells WebMD.

They measured the kids' cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin levels, and body mass index (BMI) to determine risk for heart disease.

Researchers also tested the kids for hostility, using a questionnaire that "measured their level of cynicism about the world, how they responded to situations when provoked. It measures aggression, how much they tend to feel hostile during the day," Salomon explains.

They interviewed each child to draw out hostility in very subtle ways, she says. Example: "The kids were asked a question, but before they could finish answering it, but the interviewer would cut them off. That provokes people to act aggressively -- make snide remarks, cut off the interviewer in return."

Three years later, kids had all the same tests again.

The "most compelling finding," says Salomon, "was that kids who did not show early signs of heart disease at visit 1 -- but were hostile -- were 22% more likely to have them at visit 2 than kids who weren't hostile."

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