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Aug 16, 2017

Free Online Tool Helps Predict Heart Risks in Young Adults

The Healthy Heart Score analyzes key lifestyle factors that affect heart health, like smoking, weight, exercise and diet.

A simple online tool is useful in predicting risk for developing heart disease by middle age. A recent study tested the accuracy of this tool, the Healthy Heart Score, in nearly 5,000 U.S. adults.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, this study assessed the performance of the Healthy Heart Score, which estimates the 20-year risk of heart disease in young adults. The tool was developed in 2014 by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and is based on key lifestyle factors that influence cardiovascular risk such as age, smoking, weight, exercise, and consumption of alcohol, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, red and processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages. The Healthy Heart Score is currently available for free online (https://healthyheartscore.sph.harvard.edu/) as an easy way for adults to check their risk for heart disease and get tips for reducing their cardiovascular risk.

To put this tool to the test, researchers applied it to 4,893 young adults participating in the CARDIA study (Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults). The CARDIA study was conducted from 1985-2014 and tracked young adults’ health and lifestyle for 27 years. Participants were 18–30 years old at the start of the study and came from four U.S. states including Alabama, Illinois, Minneapolis and California.

Overall, roughly 9% of participants had at least one clinical risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, and 2% of women and 4% of men suffered heart events during the follow-up period.

After applying the Healthy Heart Score, researchers found that the tool performed "moderately" well in predicting cardiovascular risk among healthy adults. However, they also note that it did not perform as well in young adults who already had risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Still, authors conclude that the Healthy Heart Score remains a useful tool, particularly for young and healthy adults. The tool is extremely easy to use and can help educate young adults about their cardiovascular risk and steps to improve their health.

This study also demonstrates the significant impact that simple lifestyle choices like diet and physical activity have on risk for heart disease—the leading killer of men and women in the United States. Even in healthy adults, small choices can impact future cardiovascular risk. The more healthy choices we make, the lower our risk for heart disease will be.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I prevent heart disease?

  • The best ways to help prevent heart disease is by eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking (if a current smoker) and maintaining a healthy weight. Patients should also know their numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, which are important to heart health.
  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

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