Study Uncovers Critical Findings on Cardiovascular Disease

Study Uncovers Critical Findings on Cardiovascular Disease


Wanda Johnson was 27 years old when she and some 1400
other Kaiser Permanente members enrolled in the CARDIA
study 30 years ago through Kaiser Permanente’s Division of
Research in Oakland. CARDIA’s goal is to study the
development of cardiovascular risk and disease
beginning in young adults. Johnson is one of about
1,000 original participants who are expected to
return to Oakland for a ninth round of exams. In all, more than 5,000 black
and white men and women aged 18 to 30 were originally
recruited for the study in Oakland; Birmingham, Alabama;
Minneapolis and Chicago. This was somewhat revolutionary
I think at the time. This was the first and really
the only large study that has looked at young adults in this
way and followed them all the way into
middle-aged life. It was unique at the time for
the inclusion of women and African Americans. There were a lot of studies at
the time on middle-aged Caucasian men. And to be a young
African American female, it just seemed interesting. One hundred and fifty-
One hundred at fifty? Okay. CARDIA participants are now
48 to 60 years old and like most Americans,
they’ve put on some weight. During the first 25 years
of the study, participants gained more than
30 pounds on average. In addition to being weighed and
measured this year, study participants will have
their blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol tested. They’ll be interviewed
extensively about lifestyle factors such as
alcohol and tobacco use, diet and exercise and medical
and family history. Hold your breath.
Hold it right there. This year’s testing also
includes an echocardiogram to measure the structure and
function of the heart. Things are happening to the
heart at this age because of risk factors like hypertension
and diabetes. For some people, we are seeing
the stages of heart failure developing. CARDIA has produced important
findings on health disparities. Over the years, black women and
men have developed diabetes at a faster rate than white
participants. The same is true for high
blood pressure. And over the first 20 years
of the study, twenty-six black participants
developed heart failure, while only one white
participant did. The vast majority of those with
heart failure had high blood pressure
early in life. The fact that over 1 percent
of African Americans had heart failure by age 40 is
really an important finding. This study really does help us
think about how better to prevent some of the diseases
that are really the leading causes of death in
the United States. There have been more than 600
papers published in scientific journals using
data from the CARDIA study. One of the most important
findings is that cardiovascular disease
develops over a lifetime. Risk factors measured early in
life such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol and lifestyle
decisions such as eating a healthy diet and
physical activity, and whether or not you smoke,
are major predictors of damage to the arteries that leads to
heart attacks and strokes. The decisions you make about
what you do early in life make a big difference in your
health later in life.