Years to your health! Children of centenarians have less heart disease

November 18, 2002

CHICAGO, Nov. 18 - Adult children whose parents lived to be 100 years old or more have a strikingly lower incidence of heart disease and fewer major heart risk factors when they reach old age than those whose parents died in their 70s, according to a study reported today at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2002.

"Exceptional longevity runs in families, but at this point it's difficult to predict how much of this effect is genetic and how much is related to environment and lifestyle," says Dellara F. Terry, M.D., of Boston University Medical Center.

"Our research suggests that children of centenarians have some cardiovascular health advantages over the rest of us, but Americans can still improve their health and age more successfully by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly."

Researchers compared 176 "c-children" (children of centenarians) with 166 controls, whose parents were born in the same years as the centenarians but who had at least one parent die at age 73, the average life expectancy for someone who survives past age 20. Average age of the centenarian offspring in the study was 71.1 years, and average age of controls was 69.7 years.

One of the c-children had two parents who lived to age 100, but that is too small a sample to draw any conclusions about possible enhanced benefits of being a two-parent c-child, she says. The other c-children's centenarian parent had an average age of 102.4 years. Average age at death of the second parent, for both c-children and controls, was 77 years.

Compared to controls, c-children had a lower prevalence of high blood pressure (26 percent vs. 52 percent), heart disease (13 percent vs. 27 percent) and diabetes (5 percent vs. 11 percent).

In addition, physical exams showed that c-children weighed less than controls. Female c-children weighed an average of 66.3 kg (146 lbs.), while female controls weighed an average 71.9 kg (158 lbs.). Male c-children weighed 83.7 kg (184 lbs.) on average, while male controls weighed 91.7 kg (202 lbs.) on average.

Accordingly, c-children had lower body mass indexes (25.5 vs. 28.6 for females and 27.3 vs. 29 for males).

"Interestingly, however, there were no significant differences (between c-children and controls) in the prevalence of a number of other age-related diseases, including cancer, stroke, dementia, osteoporosis, cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, depression, Parkinson's disease and thyroid disease," Terry says.

The study also found that c-children, on average, had significantly more years of education and a significantly higher daily function-activity level.

Researchers assessed functional status by measuring a person's performance of routine activities such as using the telephone, grocery shopping, preparing meals and taking medications.

"Higher education levels, meanwhile, may reflect socioeconomic differences, which can impact health," she says. "Our analyses controlled for differences in education and still demonstrated major differences in cardiovascular disease that favor c-children."

The study showed a variety of health benefits for both male and female c-children, Terry says. But it's still unclear how much these factors are influenced by genetics and lifestyle/environment.

"One of the major goals of our ongoing study is to sort out the extent that each of these influences contributes to longevity," she says.
Co-authors are Thomas T. Perls, M.D.; Elizabeth V. Lawler; and Maegan A. McCormick.

Abstract 3617 (poster)

American Heart Association

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