Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Chomistek: Although mortality rates from coronary heart disease in the U.S. have been in steady decline for the last four decades, women aged 35-44 have not experienced the same reduction. This disparity may be explained by unhealthy lifestyle choices. Thus, the purpose of our study was to determine what proportion of heart disease cases and cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol) could be attributed to unhealthy habits.
We defined healthy habits as not smoking, a normal body mass index, physical activity of at least 2.5 hours per week, watching seven or fewer hours of television a week, consumption of a maximum of one alcoholic drink per day on average, and a diet in the top 40 percent of a measure of diet quality based on the Alternative Healthy Eating Index.
We found that women who adhered to all six healthy lifestyle practices had a 92 percent lower risk of heart attack and a 66 percent lower risk of developing a risk factor for heart disease. This lower risk would mean three quarters of heart attacks and nearly half of all risk factors in younger women may have been prevented if all of the women had adhered to all six healthy lifestyle factors.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Chomistek: Adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle can substantially reduce the incidence of diabetes, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia as well as reduce the incidence of coronary artery disease in young women. Importantly, adhering to a healthy lifestyle was also associated with a significantly reduced risk of going on to develop heart disease among women who had already developed a cardiovascular risk factor.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Chomistek: Given the cardiovascular benefits that a healthy lifestyle can provide, more work is needed to identify the most effective strategies to encourage patients to adopt or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Andrea K. Chomistek, Stephanie E. Chiuve, A. Heather Eliassen, Kenneth J. Mukamal, Walter C. Willett, Eric B. Rimm,