Positive psychosocial experiences during childhood were associated with better cardiovascular health in adulthood, the study found.
The investigators, including senior author Laura Pulkki-Råback, PhD, of the University of Helsinki in Finland, believe their results support findings from previous studies indicating that a child's well-being affects their health later in life.
At study baseline, Pulkki-Råback and colleagues analyzed the socioeconomic status, emotional stability, parental health behaviors, occurrence of stressful events, social adjustment and the self-regulation of behavioral problems among 3,577 children aged 3-18 years.
The cardiovascular health of 1,089 of these participants was assessed 27 years later, when they were aged 30-45 years. This was done using the American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7 - a questionnaire that assesses seven factors that contribute to cardiovascular health: cholesterol, diet, blood pressure, weight, blood sugar and smoking.
Parents' choices may affect children's later-life health
Overall, the researchers found that participants who experienced positive psychosocial experiences as a child - such as a stable emotional environment at home, financial stability, social acceptance and greater opportunities to control aggressiveness and impulsiveness and to learn healthy lifestyle habits - were more likely to have better cardiovascular health as an adult.
In detail, participants who had the most positive psychosocial experiences in childhood were 14% more likely to be of normal weight in adulthood, 12% more likely to be a non-smoker and 11% more likely to have a healthy blood sugar level, compared with participants who had the least positive psychosocial experiences in childhood.
Pulkki-Råback says the team's findings indicate that a child's family environment can have a significant impact on their later-life health:
"The choices parents make have a long-lasting effect on their children's future health, and improvement in any one thing can have measurable benefits.
For instance, if an unemployed parent gets steady employment, the effect may be huge. If he or she also quits smoking, the benefit is even greater. All efforts to improve family well-being are beneficial."
Furthermore, Pulkki-Råback notes that past studies have shown that ensuring the good well-being of children and families is cost effective in the long term - it lowers health care costs in older age. "The knowledge is out there," she adds, "and now it is a question of values and priorities."
Psychosocial experiences in childhood are not the only factors that may influence cardiovascular health later in life. Last month, Medical News Today reported on another study published in Circulation, which found that women who began their menstrual cycle aged 10 or younger or 17 or older may be at increased risk of heart disease, stroke and hypertension-related complications.
Another study, published in July 2014, found that women who were sexually abused in childhood were more likely to have an early sign of atherosclerosis - thickening or hardening of the arteries - in adulthood.