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Reduced Heart Disease Risk In Middle Age Lowers Eventual Medicare Costs

CHICAGO --- Lower cardiovascular disease risk in middle age not only improves health in older age and extends lifespan -- it is also better for the nation's fiscal well-being.

A study by Northwestern University Medical School researchers found significantly lower Medicare health costs in older people who had no heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure levels and cigarette smoking, during young adulthood and middle age.

In an article in the Oct. 15 New England Journal of Medicine, the group reported that total annual Medicare charges for men at low cardiovascular disease risk were about 30 percent lower, or $1,600 less per year ($3,200 vs. $4,800), than those for men not at low risk. The total annual Medicare charges for women at low risk were 50 percent lower, or $1,800 less per year ($1,800 vs. $3,600), than those for women not at low risk.

Persons classified as being at low risk for cardiovascular disease had a serum cholesterol of less than 200; blood pressure of 120 systolic/80 diastolic or lower; no current smoking; a normal electrocardiogram; and no history of diabetes or heart attack.

Medicare is the largest single source of health care spending in the United States. As the population ages, the issue of expenditures for health care under Medicare has become increasingly important. Results of the Northwestern study indicate that preventing the major cardiovascular disease risk factors before or during middle age may dramatically reduce future Medicare costs.

"These findings imply improved quality of life -- the prolongation of independent and productive living, with a decreased burden on family and society," said Martha L. Daviglus, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Medical School, who was lead author on the study.

The Northwestern researchers studied data on over 7,000 middle-aged men and 6,800 women surveyed from 1967 to 1973 as
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Contact: Elizabeth Crown
e-crown@nwu.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
15-Oct-1998


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