In adults, increased sympathetic and decreased parasympathetic nervous system activity
are associated with a less favorable metabolic profile. Whether this is already determined at
early age is unknown. Therefore, we aimed to assess the association between autonomic
nervous system activation and metabolic profile and its components in children at age of
Cross-sectional data from an apparently healthy population (within the ABCD study) were
collected at age 5–6 years in 1540 children. Heart rate (HR), respiratory sinus arrhythmia
(RSA; parasympathetic activity) and pre-ejection period (PEP; sympathetic activity) were
assessed during rest. Metabolic components were waist-height ratio (WHtR), systolic blood
pressure (SBP), fasting triglycerides, glucose and HDL-cholesterol. Individual components,
as well as a cumulative metabolic score, were analyzed.
In analysis adjusted for child’s physical activity, sleep, anxiety score and other potential confounders,
increased HR and decreased RSA were associated with higher WHtR (P< 0.01),
higher SBP (p<0.001) and a higher cumulative metabolic score (HR: p < 0.001; RSA: p <
0.01). Lower PEP was only associated with higher SBP (p <0.05). Of all children, 5.6% had
3 or more (out of 5) adverse metabolic components; only higher HR was associated with
this risk (per 10 bpm increase: OR = 1.56; p < 0.001).
This study shows that decreased parasympathetic activity is associated with central adiposity
and higher SBP, indicative of increased metabolic risk, already at age 5–6 years.