Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, dietary fat intake, stress, and certain coping styles develop in childhood and adolescence. In mid-life, cardiovascular disease is most likely to occur among men, African Americans, and individuals from families without college education. We know daily challenges and stress affect blood pressure in adults, but less is known about adolescents' stress and how it relates to the development of risk factors. For this reason, we have paid special attention to children and adolescents in our research. For over 25 years, we have received funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health to examine the development of risk factors for adult cardiovascular disease in children and adolescents. Project Pressure is our current project examining this topic.
Project Pressure is aimed at examining the daily stress and accompanying blood pressure of adolescents. High school freshman and sophomores from two cooperating Pittsburgh Public Schools are eligible to participate in Project Pressure. Volunteering students wear a portable blood pressure monitor for two consecutive school days and overnight. We ask them about their stress and interactions with other people as they are wearing the monitor. At a separate time, these students come to our clinic and we measure their blood pressure, heart rate, and a number of other cardiovascular responses while they engage in tasks and at rest. Also, students receive an echocardiogram and carotid ultrasound scan, two procedures that allow us to get a kind of picture of their hearts and blood vessels.
All of the information we collect from our participants are pieces to a big puzzle, that when put together, gives us a picture of the development of cardiovascular disease. We already know how some of the pieces go together, such as high blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease. However, many of the pieces of our puzzle have not been examined previously, particularly in adolescents. For example, we are still learning where daily stress fits and how it relates to other pieces such as education and ethnicity. Through Project Pressure, we aim to gain a better understanding of the development of cardiovascular disease and why some individuals develop greater risk than others.