By John Stefanini
On October 11, 1948 two-thirds of the adults in Framingham started volunteering to take physical exams, conduct lab tests, and answer lifestyle questions as part of a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Boston University study. The 5,209 unpaid residents, including my grandparents, proudly participated every two years as America became more concerned about heart disease, at the time responsible for one in three deaths.
The study, known as the Framingham Heart Study, chose Framingham for many of the same reasons many of us, including my family, chose it as the place to live, learn, work and play. President Clinton’s 1994 declaration that Framingham “Really looks like America” sums up our economic, social, religious and ethnic diversity succinctly.
This world-renown Study’s huge repository of data has resulted in thousands of medical, peer reviewed, articles published in journals throughout the world. It made risk factors, the things that increase our chances of having a heart attack or stroke, household terms. It identified for the first time smoking, blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol as major risk factors. It honed the idea of “good” and “bad” cholesterol. It has forever changed the way that average Americans look at heart disease for the better.
The Framingham Heart Study is the fourth most cited in the world.
The launch of two subsequent cohorts in 1994 and 2003 added ever more diverse participants to keep up with our ethnic and racial composition. The Study also broadened its focus to include other areas. Researchers have scanned brains, hearts, bones and other organs, compiled complete genetic sequences, retina photographs, bone density tests, to name a few. The huge repository of data continues to provide researchers with the ability to have positive impacts on health outcomes.
The Study has given our community and my family for three generations the opportunity to be part of something much larger. It is with great pride that participants schedule a day-off or travel across the country to be poked, prodded and examined every few years. It is with full knowledge of the collective impact that our individual health data and life choices have on all of us.
So, a huge thanks and happy 70th anniversary to the investigators and researchers, doctors and nurses, receptionists and data clerks, past and present, of the Study for giving the residents of Framingham this gift. We are humbled to have been selected to be part of something so very important to the health of America’s hearts.
John A. Stefanini, along with his four brothers and sister-in-law, are third generation participants in the Framingham Heart Study.