In the 1940’s cardiovascular diseases were the number one cause of mortality in Americans. Prevention and treatment were so poorly understood that “most Americans accepted early death from heart disease as unavoidable.” However, the death of President Franklin Roosevelt spurred a movement in research of cardiovascular disease.
In 1944, President Roosevelt was diagnosed with “hypertension, hypertensive heart disease, and cardiac failure.” This diagnosis was given to him by a cardiologist, but his personal physician denied anything being out of the ordinary. His high blood pressure ultimately led to his untimely death nearly a year later. The death of President Roosevelt shows just how little was known about cardiovascular diseases in the mid-20th century. Just over two years later, President Harry Truman signed into law the “National Heart Act,” and the Framingham Heart Study began.
The objective of the Framingham Heart Study was to identify common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular diseases by following its development over a long period of time with a large group of participants who had not yet developed symptoms of cardiovascular disease or suffered a heart attack or stroke. More than 5,000 male and female residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, were enrolled as the first group of participants. Every two to four years, participants underwent extensive medical, physical examinations and lifestyle interviews. All were later analyzed for common patterns related to cardiovascular disease development. In 1971, the study enrolled a second generation, using the original participants’ adult children and spouses. In 1994, the study participants were revised to include a more diverse population (OMNI). In 2002, the second group of OMNI participants were enrolled.
The Framingham study has led to the identification of major cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity. The Framingham Heart Study corrected clinical misconceptions, showed that there is no essential and sufficient cause, developed a multivariable risk assessment profile (the Framingham risk score) and introduced the concept of preventive cardiology to physicians.
Hajar, R. (2016). Framingham Contribution to Cardiovascular Disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4966216/