Harvard Launches Healthy Heart Online Tools


Researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health have launched a new heart health risk calculator that is designed to look beyond blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, and instead focus on behavioral choices. The science behind the calculator is based on lifestyle trends identified during a 24-year long study of 62,000 women and 34,000 men. In the study, researchers were able to pinpoint certain traits and behaviors, like having an elevated BMI or eating processed meats, and then quantify the overall impact each of these traits had on developing heart disease later in life. Findings from the study were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association last week.

Now, Harvard public health researchers have turned the lifestyle data uncovered in the study into an online survey where users can answer questions about their own lifestyle choices, and then see their overall heart disease risk. The survey is long, and focuses almost entirely on diet and activity levels, asking detailed questions about how much fiber you’re getting, how many alcoholic drinks per week you are having, how many times you’re going to the gym, and how sedentary your overall daily life is. At the conclusion of the survey, the calculator benchmarks your heart disease risk, with “low”, “moderately low”, “moderately high”, and “high” risk levels. The lifestyle choices that contributed to the overall risk factor are then clearly explained. Interestingly, the calculator has no tolerance for any amount of sugary drinks or processed meats, but takes a more refined approach to weighing other diet shortcomings, like not eating enough vegetables or fiber.

At the end of the survey, each respondent is given practical advice on what they should change to lower their heart disease risk. Researchers noted, "the absence of established risk factors at the age of 55 is associated with a lifetime risk of CVD of 5 to 8 percent," suggesting that if you implement the lifestyle changes that are recommended, and can get your risk score down by the age of 55, you’ll reduce your overall risk of having heart health issues significantly.

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