A Prospective Study of Positive Early Life Psychosocial Factors and Favorable Cardiovascular Risk in Adulthood

Protecting and enhancing early life psychosocial assets lay the foundation for adult cardiovascular health.

Most children are born with the components of favorable cardiovascular risk—good blood pressure, lipid, and glucose levels; ideal body weight; and not smoking. If they can hold onto those assets, keep their weight down, and not get diabetes, they can avoid cardiovascular disease later.

These researchers wanted to identify early psychosocial factors that safeguard and promote cardiovascular health into adulthood. The features they looked at were:

  • Self-regulation–the ability to manage behavior, emotion, attention, and social interactions
  • Cognitive ability
  • Aspects of the home environment

The study subjects were the now-adult offspring of the New England Family Study (pregnant women enrolled 1959–1966), and its follow-up studies. The subjects had been visited at seven years old and assessed for cognitive, sensory and motor skills. Their IQ was estimated and the home environment assessed, including maternal parenting behaviors.

At follow-up, 35 years later, participants were on average 42 years old, White (81%), and female (59%). Positive child psychosocial factors were associated with favorable cardiovascular risk in adulthood, with the benefit of each factor additive. Those who had high levels of all three assets as children had a 4.3 higher odds of having favorable cardiovascular health as adults than those low in all three.


This study is one in a series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio to explore Positive Health, an emerging concept that seeks to demonstrate that in addition to health risks, people also have health assets, which can be strengthened to produce a healthier life. These health assets could include biological factors, such as high heart rate variability; subjective factors, such as optimism; and functional factors, such as a stable marriage.