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Depression has long been linked to an increased risk of other mental and physical health issues. Depression is linked, for instance, to higher rates of substance use and disorders like anxiety. Physically, depression is connected with a higher risk for heart problems.

While the relationship between depression and heart disease is well-documented, the nature of the timing between the two health issues is not fully understood. Research has not examined whether heart disease can be influenced by depression experienced in the early years of life.

A new study provides insight to that question, identifying a link between depression during childhood and cardiac risk factors exhibited in the teen years. Conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Pittsburgh, the findings show that even when the symptoms of depression have subsided, the risk remains.

The teens who suffered depression during their childhood were more at risk to be sedentary and obese and to smoke cigarettes. All of these can amplify the threat of heart disease in adulthood, according to recent research showing a connection between adolescent cardiac risk factors and adult heart disease.

The study was led by Robert M. Carney, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at Washington University.

The link between depression in childhood and teen cardiac risk factors imply that increased monitoring may be needed for child depression patients as they enter the teen years. Those who smoke as teenagers are two times more apt to die by the time they are 55, explains Carney.

The study, which is the first to establish a link between childhood depression and teenage cardiac risk factors, utilized data from a 2004 study examining genetic causes of depression. When that study occurred, the participants were, on average, 9 years old.

The researchers conducted a survey with 201 children who had a history of depression, 195 of their siblings with no history of depression and 161 children who were unrelated and had no history of depression.

The children were surveyed again in 2011, when their average age was 16. The researchers examined obesity and physical activity levels, as well as smoking behaviors. The researchers found that among kids who were depressed at the first survey, 22 percent were obese at the 16-year-old follow-up. Obesity rates were 17 percent for their siblings and 11 percent among the unrelated teens.

Similar patterns were noted when the researchers analyzed data for physical activity and for smoking. About one-third of the depressed children became daily smokers in their teen years, compared with 13 percent of their siblings and 2.5 percent of the unrelated teens.

Even when controlling for other variables that might influence cardiac risk factors, the researchers found that the results stayed the same, with the risk factors significantly higher among those who experienced depression in childhood.

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