I had no idea….

Have you heard of the Framingham Heart Study?

I had, but I still didn’t know what it was.

Since the time I started learning more about health, and specifically plant-based eating, I have heard many a reference to the Framingham Heart Study. You may or may not have heard about it, but apparently it is considered a groundbreaking study of cardiovascular disease (CVD). I thought I’d take you on my journey of learning more about this important study. Apparently, it is like no other study conducted and is one of the most important epidemiological studies of American medicine (sounds pretty serious). The Framingham Study was conducted in an attempt to identify common factors or characteristics (environmental and genetic) that contribute to cardiovascular disease. It did this by following the development of cardiovascular disease in a large group of participants over a long time period (and is still ongoing).

Since the turn of the 19th century, death due to cardiovascular disease had increased steadily and was becoming a serious problem. At the time the study was started in 1948 [1], the majority of doctors still did not understand the relationships between lifestyle, risk factors, and heart disease and stroke.

The Framingham Heart Study is so named because the cohort they recruited and followed for nearly 50 years originated from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The original cohort included 5,209 men and women, aged 30-62 with no prior or current symptoms of cardiovascular disease, heart attack or stroke. This was the first major cardiovascular study to recruit women participants (go women!).

The original generation of participants had extensive physical examinations, lifestyle interviews, and laboratory tests conducted every 2 to 4 years since 1948. In 1971, a second generation (the offspring cohort) of 5,124 of the original participants adult children and their spouses, were also included.

Since that time, a third generation (2002) cohort has been added, as well as two minority cohorts (called Omni Group 1 [in 1994] and Omni Group 2 [in 2003]). Who is in charge of coming up with these names? Anyway, the Omni cohort was established due to the need to reflect a more diverse community within the study. Around 200 people are still alive today from the original cohort [2]. Over time these cohort tests were expanded to collect additional data about other diseases such as cancer, dementia, osteoporosis, as well as hearing and eye disorders.

So what did all of this research determine? Actually, a lot of the current knowledge we take for granted. It identified major CVD risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity. It’s hard to imagine that before this study smoking had not been fully accepted as a hazard to the development of heart disease.

The study up until today has provided an important role in the prevention of heart disease and stroke. It has inspired numerous awareness campaigns of the disease risk factors so that detection and treatment can be implemented as early as possible. As this study continues into the future, further details may be able to be extracted from the large amounts of data that has been collected.

Who knows what else this study may determine in the future, but I do want to thank the participants in this study since it takes dedication to participate in this type of study for so many years and because what would our state of knowledge be regarding CVD without them?

Reading all of the websites about the Framingham Study has actually made me want to participate in something like it. Maybe I’ll try calling those participation numbers on the colored pin-up requests I see at school for psychological testing…..or maybe not.

Works Cited

1. Framingham Heart Study. (2015). History of the Framingham Heart Study. Retrieved May 24, 2015, from Framingham Heart Study: https://www.framinghamheartstudy.org/about-fhs/history.php

2. Wei, G. (2014, July). The Framingham Heart Study (FHS). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/research/resources/obesity/population/framingham.htm