A team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health developed a new online calculator called the Healthy Heart Score. This online tool allows people to easily assess their 20-year risk of developing a cardiovascular illness by adding up day-to-day habits. Apart from the risk evaluation, researchers also provided a collection of practical tips so that individuals using the online tool can also improve their score.
According to the team of scientists, it’s difficult for people to calculate such risk scores alone especially since most risk models include cardiovascular disease risk factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure.
“These risk scores, which are mostly used in doctors’ offices, often underestimate the burden of CVD among middle-aged adults, and women in particular,”
Stephanie Chiuve, research associate with the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard medical school.
Chiuve added that Harvard’s new score addresses modifiable lifestyle risks, so that most people taking the test have the option of improving on their current state. Scientists hope that those accessing Healthy Heart Score will increase their awareness of cardiovascular disease prevention earlier in life, so that clinical risk factors don’t get a chance to develop.
Results of the study were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on Thursday. Studies have shown that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the United States. However, cardiovascular disease is almost entirely preventable as long as people remain free of the clinical risk factors connected to the disease when they are middle-aged.
The model on which the online calculator was based was developed by using data from 61,025 women and 34,478 men (in the Nurses’ Health Study respectively the Health Professionals Follow-up Study). When they entered the study, the subjects were free of chronic disease. Scientists followed up with the subjects for 24 years and noted that 3,775 women and 3,506 men developed cardiovascular disease (in the form of nonfatal myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke or fatal coronary heart disease).
Nine essential diet and lifestyle factors were included in the Healthy Heart Score: smoking, exercise, weight, alcohol consumption, fruit consumption, vegetable consumption, intake of whole grains, intake of nuts, sugary beverage consumption, red and processed meat consumption. These essential aspects are investigated by use of easy questions such as “Do you smoke cigarettes”.
“This tool represents the first time that data from large-scale, well-conducted studies were used to develop an easy-to-use CVD prevention tool,”
Eric Rimm, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at HSPH and senior author of the study noted.