Hyperactive girls are more likely to develop hints of heart problems later in life, according to a new Finnish study that tracked 708 kids into young adulthood. However, it's not clear if there's a direct cause-and-effect link.
The study also found that kids who are hyperactive, socially isolated and have other problems dealing with people are more likely to develop some heart-unhealthy habits later in life.
The researchers wished they had better findings to report about the effects of childhood on adulthood, said study lead author Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen, a psychology researcher at the University of Helsinki: "We were hoping that life would not be that deterministic."
Keltikangas-Järvinen and colleagues analyzed a study of Finnish children whose emotional states were examined at ages 3 to 9 in the early 1980s. Researchers reconnected with the now-adult participants in 2001 and 2002 and used ultrasound to check the thickness of their arteries - thick and clogged arteries contribute to heart disease. They also asked about habits such as smoking.
The findings from this study appear in the upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.
Children who were hyperactive, isolated from other children and had "a tendency towards negative mood, low self-control and aggressive outbursts" were more likely to smoke as adults, Keltikangas-Järvinen said. Girls with those problems were also more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure.
Even when other factors were taken into account, girls who were more active than other children - not just those who might be specifically diagnosed with a psychological problem - were more likely to show indications of clogged arteries as adults.
Stress seems to be a major player, not hyperactivity itself, Keltikangas-Järvinen said. Society doesn't tolerate hyperactivity, she said, so children become stressed by always hearing, "Don't do that, don't be that, don't be so restless, don't be so noisy."
Still, there are ways to treat hyperactive children and help them lead better lives, said Heidi M. Feldman, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and child development at the University of Pittsburgh who is familiar with the study findings. "The presence of hyperactivity raises risks but does not inevitably lead to adverse outcomes," she said.
By Randy Dotinga