An epidemiological evidence shows that smoking, high total cholesterol, hypertension, overweight, and a low level of physical activity are significant risk factors for coronary heart disease mortality. Therefore, by turning these risk factors in a healthier direction, presumably a substantial proportion of the deaths would be preventable.
The avoidable proportion of coronary heart disease deaths associated with smoking, a high level of total cholesterol, systolic hypertension, overweight, and a low level of leisure-time physical activity was assessed with the use of the population attributable risks for initially 30- to 63-year-old Finnish men (six studies with 1,340-7,928 subjects) who were followed up from 7 to 30 years.
The theoretical estimates of population at tributable risks derived from published studies were as follows: smoking 10 to 33%; high total cholesterol 9 to 21%; hypertension 6 to 15%; overweight 3 to 6%; and low level of leisure-time physical activity 22 to 39%.
These estimations, based on observed mortality rates and risk factor prevalences, suggest that, even if modest estimates are used, the burden from coronary heart disease deaths can be substantially reduced by converting the risk factors to more healthful levels. The results also suggest that efforts to increase physical activity deserve as much consideration as those aimed at influencing more traditional risk factors.