A groundbreaking study revealed the risk factors that can affect heart health.
The terms risk factor, good cholesterol, and bad cholesterol were not always on the tip of everyone’s tongue when it came to cardiovascular disease. In fact, at one time doctors didn’t even consider the concept of managing cholesterol levels to prevent heart disease. However, that was more than fifty years ago, before the Framingham Heart Study became one of the most important epidemiological studies in American health history. Conducted by what is now known as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Massachusetts, the study changed the way healthcare professionals and consumers alike regard the prevention of heart disease.Framingham Heart Study. “History of the Framingham Heart Study.” © 2011. www.framinghamheartstudy.org/about/history.html.
In the 1940s, little was known about the general causes of heart disease and stroke. Most doctors thought a hardening of the arteries was a natural part of aging, and that rising blood pressure with age was not a serious issue. Yet, the death rates for cardiovascular disease had been increasing steadily since the early 1900s and had become an American epidemic. Growing concern led the US Public Health Service to commission a study to determine which biologic and environmental factors were behind the growing problem. The objective was to follow the development of cardiovascular disease over a long period of time in a large group of participants who had not yet developed overt symptoms. Researchers believed this approach would enable them to identify common characteristics and factors.
In 1948, researchers enrolled more than five thousand participants between ages thirty and sixty-two from Framingham, Massachusetts. The participants returned to the study every two years for a detailed medical examination and laboratory tests. In 1971, the Framingham Heart Study enrolled a second generation—the original participants’ adult children and their spouses. In 2002, a third generation—the grandchildren of the original group—joined the study. Recognizing the need to establish a new study reflecting a more diverse population, an additional group of participants was selected in 1994.Framingham Heart Study. “History of the Framingham Heart Study.” © 2011. www.framinghamheartstudy.org/about/history.html.
The findings of these extensive, long-term studies have created a treasure trove of data for scientists that has revolutionized the way our nation looks at heart disease. The results revealed high blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol in particular, as risk factors for heart disease. The study also identified lifestyle choices as factors which increased the risk of cardiovascular disease, including eating an unhealthy diet, remaining sedentary, and smoking. By utilizing new diagnostic technologies, the Framingham Study continues to make important strides in learning about heart disease. Framingham investigators also collaborate with leading researchers from around the world on projects related to osteoporosis, arthritis, and diabetes. In addition, they have initiated the Framingham Nutrition Studies, which examine the connection between diet and nutrition to the risk and outcomes of cardiovascular disease. The discoveries of Framingham researchers can help discern opportunities for preventive nutrition intervention.Framingham Heart Study. “History of the Framingham Heart Study.” © 2011. www.framinghamheartstudy.org/about/history.html.
Video 16.9.1: The Framingham Study. Dr. Hans Diehl discusses the driving forces behind the Framingham Heart Study. (click to see video)
Are you ready to make the necessary changes to achieve optimal health?
How will you benefit from the knowledge about nutrition that you have gained thus far? The link between good nutrition and good health is an undebatable scientific fact. Given the consequences of poor dietary choices and lifestyle habits, it is worthwhile to assess your current food and activity profile to determine areas for improvement. It is important to remember that there are no quick fixes, but with dedication, hard work, and persistence, much can be accomplished. Of course, giving up what we once found enjoyable may not be the easiest task. In fact, it can be very hard to develop new thinking patterns that will translate into better dietary and lifestyle choices. Are you willing to put forth the effort necessary to create change in your life? As you read this chapter, you will be presented with tools and concepts to help you with this task. After that, it will be up to you.