MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr Janice Atkins
Epidemiology and Public Health
University of Exeter Medical School
RD&E Hospital Wonford
Barrack Road, Exeter
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: We have previously shown that having longer-lived parents increases your likelihood of living longer, and family history of heart attacks is already used by physicians to identify patients at increased risk of disease. However, it has been unclear how the health advantages of having longer lived parents is transferred to their middle-aged offspring.
Our study of nearly 200,000 UK volunteers aged 55-73 at baseline, and followed for 8 years using health records data, found that having longer-lived parents reduced the risk of morbidity and mortality in the participants. We found that for each parent that lived beyond 70 years of age the participants had 20% less chance of dying from heart disease. To illustrate this, in a group of 1,000 people whose father’s died at 70 and followed for 10 years, on average 50 would die from heart disease. When compared to a group whose father’s died at 80, on average only 40 would die from heart disease over the same 10-year period. Similar trends were seen in the mother’s.
The relationship between parental age at death and survival and health in their offspring is complex, with many factors playing a role. Shared environment and lifestyle choices play a large role, including smoking habits, high alcohol consumption, low physical activity and obesity; but even accounting for these factors parents lifespan was still predictive in their offspring. The biggest genetics effects on lifespan in our studies affected the participant’s blood pressure, their cholesterol levels, their Body Mass Index, and their likelihood to be addicted to tobacco. These are all factors that affect risk of heart disease, so is consistent with the lower rates of heart disease in the offspring.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: It is really important to note that these are group-level effects i.e. general tendencies. Our results do not mean people with shorter-lived parents should lose hope. These effects do not necessarily apply to individuals, as so many factors affect ones health. People can overcome their increased risk by choosing the healthy options in terms of not smoking, keeping active, avoiding obesity etc and getting their blood pressures and cholesterol levels tested. Of course, they should discuss their family history with their physicians, as there are some good treatments for some of the causes of premature deaths. Conversely, people with long-lived parents cannot assume they will therefore live long lives; if you are exposed to the big health risk factors, this will be more important to your health than the age at which your parents died.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: It still needs to be determined whether asking about the age of people’s parents can add predictive value to cardiovascular risk assessments, such as the QRISK score, and in addition whether genetic information on predisposition to high blood pressure or cholesterol would improve prediction and patient outcomes. We hope to follow this in future research as the UK Biobank data has increased follow-up over the years, combined with other data sources.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: There is still some unexplained variance in the relationship between parental age at death and survival and health in their offspring (i.e. long-lived parents still convey an advantage to offspring beyond the genetic and lifestyle factors we have described). Additional genetic or environmental mechanisms may play a part and this needs further exploration.
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Janice L. Atkins, Luke C. Pilling, Alessandro Ble, Ambarish Dutta, Lorna W. Harries, Anna Murray, Carol Brayne, Jean-Marie Robine, George A. Kuchel, Luigi Ferrucci, David Melzer. Longer-Lived Parents and Cardiovascular Outcomes. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2016; 68 (8): 874 DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2016.05.072
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