Stressed Out Kids

Stressed out kids leads to sick adults.

That is the conclusion of a recent study report in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology. For years we have known that stress as adults markedly increases the risk of a heart attack, stroke, and even dying. Stress also increases the risk of diabetes.

But new data from a 1958 British study sheds a haunting light on stress in childhood. The study group has been followed for almost 60 years and the outcome is not pretty. Kids under stress have a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease as adults.

25% of the children in the study admitted to persistent stress in childhood. Is 1950’s Britain any different from life today? Children in the 21st century likely have more pressure on them than at any time in history. Just think about the stress associated with school. The emphasis on achievement has never been greater. The rat race for the kids starts earlier and ends later. Time for play, recess, and physical education has been lost. Outdoor time is minimal, so the student misses the healthy sunshine and depletes vitamin D. This leads to more mood disorders.

Constant after school activities, peer pressure compounded by the advent of social media, homework, television, and video games equals zero down time in our children. We, as The Drs. Wolfson, witness this firsthand with our boys.

One would likely conclude that stressed out kids make poor choices. They eat worse, play less, sleep less, and even turn to smoking, alcohol, and illegal drugs. This is all most certainly true.

But stress may directly impact health thru alterations in the brain and the hormonal system. Chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) can lead to poor immune function, elevated blood pressure, and lipid (cholesterol) abnormalities. Blood sugar elevation may also occur, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. All these issues are a set up for cardiovascular disease.

The answers to the stressed kids problem go beyond the scope of this post. But here are a few ideas.

1) Kids need sleep and they are not getting it. We all need to go to sleep with the sundown and awake with the sunrise. Humans and animals have done this since the dawn of time. This is especially important for growing children.

2) Back off on some of the extracurricular activities. Your child doesn’t need to play every sport, instrument, and dance class. Your child needs to PLAY.

3) Talk to your children about stress. Let them know what the symptoms are and see if the child admits to those feelings. Find out what is stressing your child and work to get rid of it.

4) Harness the power of the sun. Naked when possible. Skip the toxic sunscreens that do more harm than good. Sunburn bad, sunshine good.

5) Good food choices lead to less stress. It’s pretty simple.

1) J Am Coll Cardio. 2015; 66(14) 1577-86

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