Scientists at Cincinnati Children’s are leading a multinational effort to improve the cardiovascular risk assessment of children by comparing the health of middle-aged adults to the results of studies they participated in decades ago.

Elaine Urbina, MD, MS.

Elaine Urbina, MD, MS

The study, “Childhood Cardiovascular Risk and Adult Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes: An International Long-term Follow-up,” recently earned a five-year, $13.5 million award from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The goal is to better understand risk factors in children and reassess when interventions should begin.

“Back in the ’70s, people felt children could not get hypertension,” says Elaine Urbina, MD, MS, Director of Preventive Cardiology at Cincinnati Children’s. “So the first step is to define what is normal in healthy children in terms of blood pressure and glucose and determine where those cut-points should be.”

She and Jessica Woo, PhD, MHSA, from the Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, are co-principal investigators on the project.

The project plans to follow up with as many as 40,000 people who participated as children in seven studies that began in the 1970s, including five U.S. studies and one each in Australia and Finland. Each of these studies measured cardiac risk factors in childhood and tracked the participants’ health into adulthood.

The first challenge for researchers is locating participants. “We hope to find 20,000,” Urbina says. “These kids are now entering their 50s and likely to begin experiencing cardiovascular disease.”

One of the seven studies involved children at Princeton City School District near Cincinnati who were as young as 6 when the study was conducted from 1973-76. They were well into adulthood when a follow-up study was done from 2000-2004. That study detected 17 cases of cardiovascular disease in the initial follow-up period. Researchers at the time reported that “pediatric metabolic syndrome and age at follow-up assessment were significant predictors of cardiovascular disease.”

The new project seeks to confirm those findings across a much larger population.