You’re likely referring to a finding from the long-running Framingham Heart study showing that the offspring of mothers who have had heart-healthy lifestyles live nearly a decade longer without heart disease than individuals whose mothers’ lifestyles were unhealthy. Offspring from parents participating in the long-running Framingham Study were followed for 46 years beginning when these individuals reached an average age of 32. The new investigation looked at whether their parents’ heart health was linked to the age at which the offspring being followed develop cardiovascular disease. A total of 1,989 offspring, 1,989 mothers and 1,989 fathers participated.
According to study leader James Muchira R.N., Ph.D. of Vanderbilt University and the University of Massachusetts, the new findings suggest that mothers are the primary gatekeepers of their children’s health and that “this maternal influence persists into the adulthood of their offspring.” The study was the first to examine whether parents’ heart health was associated with the age at which offspring develop cardiovascular disease. It also investigated the influence of each parent separately. The cardiovascular health of mothers and fathers was determined on the basis of seven factors: whether or not they smoked, their diet, whether or not they were physically active, as well as body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood glucose.
The study found that offspring of mothers with ideal cardiovascular health lived nine more years free of cardiovascular disease than did those whose mothers had poor cardiovascular health. Results showed that poor cardiovascular health among mothers was linked with twice the chance of early onset cardiovascular disease among their offspring compared to those whose mothers whose cardiovascular health was ideal. The heart health of fathers didn’t have a statistically significant effect on how long their offspring lived without cardiovascular disease.
The study also showed that sons were more affected than daughters by a mother’s unhealthy lifestyle. Dr. Muchira said this is “because sons had more unfavorable lifestyle habits than daughters, making the situation even worse.”
He added that the strong contribution of mothers was likely a combination of health status during pregnancy and environment in early life. “If mothers have diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy, those risk factors get imprinted in their children at a very early age. In addition, women are often the primary caregivers and the main role model for behaviors,” Dr. Muchira said. However, he noted that “individuals can take charge of their own health. People who inherit a high risk from their mother can reduce that risk by exercising and eating well. If they don’t, the risk will be multiplied.”
Andrew Weil, M.D.
J.M. Muchira et al, “Parental cardiovascular health predicts time to onset of cardiovascular disease in offspring. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, November 2020. doi:10.1093/eurjpc/zwaa072.