Socioeconomic Status Linked To Enlarged Hearts, Heart Disease Risk

March 16, 1999

Children of lower socioeconomic status show greater cardiovascular responses to stress, which in turn is associated with enlargement of the left ventricle of their heart, researchers report. In adulthood, large left ventricular mass raises the risk of dying of heart disease.

Brooks B. Gump, Ph.D., and Karen A. Matthews, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, report their findings in the March issue of Health Psychology.

"The pathways that lead to enlarged left ventricles and consequent heart disease may differ for African American and white children and adolescents," they say. "In the African Americans, we found that low socioeconomic status was associated with greater hostility, and in turn, greater hostility was associated with greater cardiovascular reactivity."

For white participants, however, hostility was not an important link between socioeconomic status and cardiovascular reactivity, according to Gump and Matthews.

Low socioeconomic environments are likely to promote the development of cardiovascular reactivity to stress, perhaps as a way of being prepared to deal with threatening events that are common in those environments.

The scientists worked with 147 boys and girls evenly distributed among children aged 8 to 10 and adolescents aged 15 to 17, between white and African American, and between male and female.

The population density for the child's neighborhood and parents' education and occupation were some of the indicators of socioeconomic status. In addition, the children and adolescents were tested for hostility and anger using standard psychological questionnaires and interviews.

Electrocardiograms and other measures were used to gauge cardiovascular responses to mental stress tasks. Left ventricular mass was measured using echocardiograms.

Gump, now at State University of New York at Oswego, and Matthews were supported in the research by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Health Psychology is the official, peer-reviewed research journal of the Division of Health Psychology (Division 38), American Psychological Association. For information about the journal, please contact its editor, David Krantz, Ph.D., at 301-295-3273.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, contact Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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