New research shows that having a family history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is not enough to motivate people to follow healthy lifestyles.
The research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona. Researchers used data from 188,139 users of HeartAge.me, a free online tool that engages people presenting their personal CVD risk factors as their estimated 'heart age', to test the hypothesis that those who have a family history of CVD are more likely to attend medical examinations and blood pressure checks and be motivated to adopt healthy diet and lifestyle habits.
Advertisement38.5% of users reported a family history of CVD in at least one parent, with 7% reporting a family history of CVD in two parents. Those who reported that a parent had suffered with CVD were more likely to know their blood pressure and cholesterol values than those without a family history of CVD, suggesting that they were more likely to get tested regularly.
However, this awareness of risk factors did not translate into lower CVD risk or healthier behaviours. Those who reported a family history of CVD had higher heart ages (5.8 years older than real age) than those who did not report family history (4.4 years older than real age). 25% of those who did not report family history of CVD scored 'poor' on a diet and lifestyle index, compared to 32% of users with family history of CVD in two parents.
Dr. Mark Cobain, Chief Science Officer at HeartAge who led the research commented "Our research challenges the idea that a family history of CVD may predispose individuals towards a healthier lifestyle. We see that even though people with family history of CVD are more likely to know their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers than those without, this alone does not appear to motivate them to adopt healthier habits. This could be because they believe that it is inevitable that they will develop CVD or doubt that it is preventable through risk factor control."
He added "Previous research2 indicates that making CVD risk personally relevant by giving an individual their heart age promotes behaviour changes and improved outcomes. Such a strategy may prove effective in communicating risk and motivating lifestyle change for those with a family history of CVD."
Separate research3 from the same team, which was also presented at the ESC Congress, highlighted the potential of small diet and lifestyle changes to reduce CVD risk, suggesting that these changes could have similar, or even greater effects than drugs such as statins or anti-hypertensives.
The modeling study looked at the impact of lifestyle changes including following a healthy diet, losing weight, increasing physical activity and giving up smoking on CVD risk expressed as a heart age. Key findings include:
• For people with hypertension (high blood pressure), adherence to a healthy diet could lower heart age by on average 2-6 years; starting to take anti-hypertensives has a similar effect with a reduction in heart age of 3 to 5 years.
• In overweight or obese people, a 5-kilogram weight loss could reduce heart age by 2-4 years. Giving up smoking could reduce heart age by an average of 13 years.
• In people with high cholesterol, starting to use statins could reduce heart age with 3 to 6 years.
Since it was first launched in 2009, Heart Age has received widespread support from healthcare professionals as a solution to help sustain behaviour changes in multiple areas, such as healthy eating, increased physical activity and smoking cessation. Local public health pilots are being conducted in the UK in partnership with public health departments in local authorities, including Shropshire Council and Bromley Council.