Hostility in children is a risk factor for developing the precursors to cardiovascular disease

May 18, 2003

WASHINGTON -- It is well-known that adults who respond to life events with anger are more at risk for developing cardiovascular disease than those who do not. And now, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Helsinki, children and adolescents with similar hostile responses are also putting themselves at increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome -a precursor to adult heart disease, according to a study in the May issue of Health Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Hostility levels and cardiovascular risk were examined in a sample of 134 African American and European American 8-10 year olds and 15-17 year olds by researchers Katri Raikkonen, Ph.D., Karen A. Matthews, Ph.D., and Kristen Salomon to determine if hostility was related to specific physiological changes that lead to cardiac disease. Hostility measures used were the same tests used to measure adult hostility. The children defined as having metabolic syndrome had at least two of the following risk factors above the 75 percentile of scores for their age, race and gender: body mass index (a measure of obesity), insulin resistance, ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, and blood pressure.

The children and adolescents who had high scores on the hostility measures were more likely to exhibit metabolic syndrome three-years later compared to those participants who didn't have high hostility scores. Obesity and insulin resistance were the two highest risk factors found at follow up in the high hostility children, according to the study.

The sexual maturation process involving the adrenal, gonadal and growth hormones, which can start as young as eight, can play a mediating role in a young person's potential for reacting to the world in a hostile fashion and heighten the risk for metabolic syndrome, said Dr. Matthews. "Unhealthy lifestyles, such as physical inactivity, poor diet, smoking and alcohol use can also be a way hostile children and adolescents cope and contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome."

The authors suggest that these findings be used to evaluate the behavioral risk in young individuals to these potential health problems. "There is a need for interventions designed to reduce hostility in young people to prevent the precursors to cardiovascular disease, like obesity or Type II diabetes , which has become a huge health problem in children in the U.S.," said Matthews.
Article: "Hostility Predicts Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors in Children and Adolescents," Katri Raikkonen, Ph.D., University of Helsinki; Karen A. Matthews, Ph.D., and Kristen Salomon, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh; Health Psychology, Vol. 22, No. 3.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at

Karen A. Matthews, PhD can be reached by phone at 412-624-2041 or by email,; Kristen Salomon, PhD can be reached by phone at 813-974-4922 or by email,

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students.

Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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