If your kids are happy and you know it clap your hands—because their level of stress in childhood may have an effect on their heart attack risk later in life. So report Finnish researchers in a longitudinal study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics after 311 children were followed from 1980 to 2008 as part of the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. And while the data is based largely on subjective parental reports, it turns out that even after accounting for a wide range of variables, including socioeconomic status, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol, the higher a child's stress score, the greater his or her risk for hardened arteries down the road, reports the New York Times.
"I think that economic conditions are important here," lead author Dr. Markus Juonala tells the Times, which notes that the long follow-up time and careful control give the study "considerable strength." While the precise mechanism at play remains unclear, the authors say that stress during childhood just might trigger changes in "metabolic functioning and inflammation," reports Reuters, and these in turn might lead to calcium deposits in the arteries. Of course, it's also possible that happier kids simply develop healthier habits from a young age, such as balanced diets and exercise, which are already known to lower one's heart attack risk. (Check out what makes kids happy around the world.)