Depression In Children Linked To Heart Disease Risk

depressed children grow up to become teens with greater risk factors for heart disease

If you suffered from depression as a child, you’re more likely to be overweight, smoke cigarettes, and avoid exercise as a teenager, increasing your chances of developing heart disease as an adult. That’s the conclusion of a study presented today at the American Psychosomatic Society meeting in Miami, from a joint team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the Washington University (WU) School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Robert M. Carney, lead author of the study and a psychiatrist with WU, said that the findings were especially concerning because, “Active smokers as adolescents are twice as likely to die by the age of 55 than nonsmokers, and we see similar risks with obesity… We need to very closely monitor young people who have been depressed.”

The teams first gathered the study children when they were 9 in 2004. There were 201 kids diagnosed with clinical depression, 195 healthy siblings who didn’t have the disease, and 161 unrelated children who had no history of depression.

They returned to survey them again, at age 16, in 2011.

The pattern was clear. 22% of the teens who had been treated for depression were obese, and one-third of them smoked. 17% of their siblings were obese, and only 13% of them smoked. By comparison, only 11% of the control group teens were obese and a tiny 2.5% of them smoked. And the increased risk factors were found even though most of the teens had been successfully treated and no longer suffered from active depression.

The size of the problem isn’t exactly known, since psychiatrists are still debating just how many children that young suffer from clinical depression, according to the National Institutes of Health. Their website says that up to 11% of 18-year-olds suffer from depression, while younger children have a lower chance of having the disease.


Depression and suicidal thoughts can be more common in some vulnerable children, such as children who suffer from attention deficit disorder or one of the autism spectrum disorders. Parents of these at-risk children might need to be especially watchful to help them make the right choices to protect their hearts in later life.

Depression in a child could truly be a heart-breaker.

[photo courtesy “Stars Alive” and flickr]