Rollins professor leads AHA scientific statement linking childhood adversity and heart disease

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Dec. 18, 2017


Melva Robertson

Shakira F. Suglia, ScD, associate professor of epidemiology at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, is lead author on a new scientific statement written on behalf of the American Heart Association (AHA). The statement, which will be printed in the AHA's journal, Circulation, highlights current research linking childhood adversity to cardiovascular disease and the need for increased research in this area.

AHA scientific statements are supported by scientific studies and undergo a rigorous review and approval process. These statements often reflect an official AHA position on the basis of the evidence presented.

Suglia, whose research is heavily centered on the ways in which social factors impact cardio-metabolic health, proposed creating the statement and served as chair of the 16-person writing committee. Cari Jo Clark, ScD, associate professor of global health, is also an author on the statement. 

"The goal is to bring attention to childhood exposures—in particular traumatic adverse exposures—and how they're relevant for diseases that manifest much, much later," says Suglia.

Adverse childhood experiences are defined in the statement as "experiences that threaten the child's bodily, familial or social safety or security."

Suglia adds, "If we wait until cardiovascular disease manifests itself at age 50 or 60, it may be too late. Ideally, we want to intervene much earlier." 

The three main takeaways from the statement are: 

  • There is an association between adverse experiences in childhood and cardiovascular health in adulthood.
  • More research needs to be done on the early impacts of adversities on cardiovascular and cardio-metabolic health in childhood, adolescence and young adult populations.
  • More work needs to be done on preventing adversities in childhood, as well as developing secondary prevention methods that could prevent or buffer their effects on cardiovascular health.