AHA’s 2012 Heart Disease Advances and What They Mean for Cancer

The American Heart Association (AHA) just released its top 10 list of research accomplishments for 2012.  Most are quite heart-specific (unsurprisingly), but two of the ten highlight something we’ve often highlighted on this blog and in our risk assessment app and websites: that major chronic diseases share many of the same risk factors.

“6. Why children and adolescents should ‘just say no’ to sugary drinks”

This advance highlighted the results of two large, well-designed clinical trials that “provided definitive evidence” that drinking sugary drinks can increase excess weight gain in youth.  Both studies found that  youth who reduced the amount of sugary drinks they consumed kept excess weight off to a greater degree than those who kept drinking sugary drinks as they normally would.  While this may not seem like news per se, given all the media chatter on the topic and the recent ban on large-sized sodas in New York City, these studies do provide even more of a solid scientific backing to the links seen between sugary soda and weight gain.  

If there’s one overarching chronic disease risk factor – apart from tobacco – it’s overweight.  There are the obvious links with diabetes and heart disease and stroke, but also the lesser known links with numerous cancers (at least seven).  One recent paper – of which CNiC’s Graham Colditz was a co-author – estimated that obesity directly cost the nation $99 billion (in 1995 dollars) and consumed close to six percent of all health care costs.
Though recent data show some progress on the childhood obesity front, much work remains to be done.  Obesity rates shot up so drastically over the past two decades that it’ll take many years of concerted efforts to make sustainable and general progress against it.  But recent trends showing rates leveling off and even dropping in some areas is a great sign that awareness and action may finally be translating to real results.  Working to further curb sugary soda consumption is one important effort that can help keep things moving in the right direction.

“9. Ideal cardiovascular health practices lead to longer life, lower risk”

At number nine on the AHA list were two studies showing “the huge impact lifestyle factors can have in lowering heart disease and stroke risk and in helping people extend their lives.”  One of these studies, which followed 7600 adults for close to six years, found that an overall healthy lifestyle – like, not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating healthfully, and watching cholesterol and blood pressure – could lower the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by almost 90 percent and dying overall by almost 80 percent.  
While the public largely understands that heart disease is highly preventable, fewer understand that cancer is as well.  Yet overall, 50 percent of cancers can be prevented by most of the same behaviors that also lower heart disease risk.  For colon and lung cancers, this percentage is much higher – 70 percent or more (see figure). 
It’s only natural that health organizations focus on specific diseases or specific risk factors since it can help with funding, messaging, and research.  However, it’s also important that organizations don’t become too isolated in their specific fields and explore, when possible, more unified approaches that can optimize the links between the range of common risk factors and common chronic diseases.  
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Full list of AHA’s top research advances for 2012 include:

  1. Extended CPR saves lives
  2. Converting “non-beating” heart cells into “beating” heart cells
  3. Biopsied heart cells improved heart function and reduced scars
  4. “Disconnecting” the kidneys might be the key to treating high blood pressure
  5. Progress for children in transplant bridging and Kawasaki Disease
  6. Why children and adolescents should “just say no” to sugary drinks
  7. Global impact: ECHO screening for rheumatic heart disease
  8. Devices for stroke
  9. Ideal cardiovascular health practices lead to longer life, lower risk
  10. Bypass surgery vs. drug-coated stents for diabetes patients

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