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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern Study Finds Diet during Young Adulthood Linked to Later Cardiovascular Disease

People who ate more fruits and vegetables as young adults were less likely to develop coronary atherosclerosis 20 years later, according to a recent study co-authored by Dr. Philip Greenland, director of the Center for Population Health Sciences-Institute for Public Health and Medicine.

The findings, published in Circulation, provide evidence that adopting a healthy diet early in life – rather than later – may decrease the odds of future cardiovascular disease.

“This study gives additional support to the importance of healthy eating beginning as early as age 18,” said Dr. Greenland, the Harry W. Dingman Professor of Cardiology. “Often, people only become concerned about healthy eating when they’re older, but a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables throughout life is a key part of preventing disease.”

The investigators analyzed data from 2,500 Black and White men and women aged 18 to 30 years old who answered questions about their eating habits. Twenty years later, they had heart scans that detected coronary calcium.

“Coronary calcium is a good indicator of heart attack risk,” Dr. Greenland said. “It measures the amount of calcium, one of the components that can build up in plaques that narrow heart vessels, which can rupture and cause heart attacks.”

The study found that people who said they ate an average of seven to nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day were 25 percent less likely to have a significant coronary calcium in their arteries at the 20-year follow-up compared to those who only ate two to four servings a day.

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