Psychosocial Resources in Childhood that Protect against Cardiovascular Risk in Adulthood: The 1958 Birth Cohort Study

Project: Research


  • Julia Kate Boehm (PI)


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death and the prevalence of certain cardiovascular risk factors continues to rise. These trends suggest that primary and secondary prevention efforts could be accompanied by primordial prevention, which seeks to preserve the ideal cardiovascular health that most children experience early in life. However, the psychosocial factors in childhood that promote cardiovascular health are vastly understudied. Initial evidence indicates that adversity in childhood (e.g., socioeconomic disadvantage, abuse) is associated with increased cardiovascular risk in adulthood. Yet substantially less is known about protective psychosocial factors in childhood (also known as resources) that may promote ideal cardiovascular health. Protective factors are not the mere opposite of risk factors, and evidence from the principal investigator suggests that adults with psychological resources have reduced risk of CVD. To date, however, protective psychosocial factors in childhood have received little attention. Given recent calls to implement primordial prevention strategies, this is a significant gap. Thus, the overall hypothesis of the proposed research is that psychosocial resources in childhood (including positivity, optimism, purpose in life, and supportive social relationships) may foster healthy behavioral patterns in young adulthood that contribute to reduced cardiometabolic risk in middle age. The specific aims to be tested are: 1) determine whether psychosocial resources in childhood protect against adult cardiovascular risk; 2) determine whether psychosocial resources in childhood are associated with healthier behaviors in adults, which may act as a pathway linking psychosocial resources with adult cardiometabolic risk. The proposed research will capitalize on data from the 1958 British Birth Cohort, which assessed psychosocial resources at age 11, health behaviors at age 33, and cardiometabolic risk at age 45. Notably, childhood psychosocial resources will be determined based on essays that cohort members wrote at age 11 about their future lives at age 25. Undergraduate students will rate this rich and unique data source for the presence of psychosocial resources so that associations with adult health behaviors and cardiometabolic risk can be determined. The proposed work has the potential to contribute to our limited understanding of how psychosocial factors play a role in the primordial prevention of CVD.
Award amount$126,120.00
Award date04/01/2018
Program typeAHA Institutional Research Enhancement Award (AIRE
Award ID18AIREA33960394
Effective start/end date04/01/201806/30/2020