Angry Children at Risk for Heart Disease
Helping Angry Children Become Flexible Is as Important as Diet, Exercise for Preventing Heart Disease
WebMD News Archive
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
"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
Hostility, anger, and aggressiveness are complicated reactions
with many roots, says John Sargent, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at
Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He agreed to discuss the findings with
Predatory aggressiveness is one thing: "I want that, and
I'm going to take it from you." Reactive aggressiveness is another:
"I'm a threatened soul in the universe, watching out for whoever's doing
stuff to me, and I'm going to get 'em."
Temperament can predispose some children to anger and
hostility, he explains. That behavioral style is largely genetic, yet is
affected by environment, he says.