Mothers’ lifestyle determines when children will develop heart disease, study shows

Author: “Our study suggests that mothers are the primary gatekeepers of their children’s health.”

SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France — Parents impart many things to their children. A study by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) says this doesn’t just apply to what parents teach their kids, but also to the health they pass on to them as well. Researchers say the offspring of mothers with healthy lifestyles live longer before developing heart issues.

“Our study suggests that mothers are the primary gatekeepers of their children’s health,” says study author Dr. James Muchira of Vanderbilt University and the University of Massachusetts in a media release. “This maternal influence persists into the adulthood of their offspring.”

Many studies have revealed that parents can pass on various genetic and health characteristics to their children. The new report is the first to study whether a parent’s heart health can predict when their child will suffer a heart attack or stroke. The study looked at 1,989 mother-father-child groups in the Framingham Heart Study. The offspring entered the study around age of 32 and were followed for 46 years from 1971 to 2017.

“Crucially, the study followed offspring into most of their adult life when heart attacks and strokes actually occur,” Dr. Muchira explains.

A mother’s health during pregnancy ‘get imprinted in their children’

Researchers rated the cardiovascular health of mothers and fathers according to seven different factors of good health. Those include not smoking, healthy diets, being physically active, having a proper body mass index, and having healthy blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood glucose readings. These measures were then listed as either poor (having 0-2 habits), intermediate (3-4), or ideal cardiovascular health (5-7).

While the study looked at all family pairings, the results reveal mother-child connections are the greatest factors in the offspring’s future heart health. Children from mothers with healthy lifestyles enjoy nine more years without cardiovascular disease compared to kids from mothers with unhealthy lifestyles. The study shows these healthier participants live 27 years before having a heart issue. This number was only 18 years for the offspring of unhealthy mothers.

“If mothers have diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy, those risk factors get imprinted in their children at a very early age. In addition, women are often the primary caregivers and the main role model for behaviors,” Dr. Muchira says.

The results also reveal the father’s health does not significantly impact the heart health of their kids. In addition, sons seem to benefit more from a healthy mom than daughters do.

“This was because sons had more unfavorable lifestyle habits than daughters, making the situation even worse. It shows that individuals can take charge of their own health. People who inherit a high risk from their mother can reduce that risk by exercising and eating well. If they don’t, the risk will be multiplied,” the study author adds.

Parents play role in helping children ward off heart disease later in life

Although a mother’s lifestyle can have a major influence on their children, researchers say it’s possible to break away from negative patterns and get back on the road to better health.

“Family-based interventions should occur during pregnancy and very early in the child’s life, so that the real impact of protective cardiovascular health tracks into adulthood,” Dr. Muchira concludes. “For example, pairing mothers and young children in an exercise or diet improvement program. If children grow into healthy adults, they will not acquire the same cardiovascular risk as their parents, a situation that will raise the chances of having even healthier grandchildren.”

The study appears in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.