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Heart Disease Risk Not Lower Here, Hoag Study Finds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite being stereotyped as diet-conscious and fitness-crazed, Orange County residents might not be any better off than the average American when it comes to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, two key risk factors for heart disease, according to preliminary findings of an ongoing study.

The initial findings, based on 5,000 screenings throughout the county, surprised researchers at Hoag Heart Institute in Newport Beach, one of 52 centers in a nationwide study on how to reduce the risks of heart disease. Hoag is the only center in Orange County involved in the research.

“We assumed that being in Southern California, we were going to look very good compared to people with indoor, less active lifestyles,” said Dr. Joel Manchester, the institute’s medical director of cardiology.

Manchester stressed that the findings released this week were not the basic point of the research. The National Heart Attack Risk Study was designed to determine whether people who are made aware of their risks of heart disease and how their numbers compare to others will, as a result, make healthful changes in their lifestyles. So far, that question remains unanswered, Manchester said, as Hoag is only about a year into the five-year study.

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But measurements of the five key risk indicators--cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, weight and smoking--have not all turned out as anticipated.

Fifty-four percent of Orange County participants had high total blood cholesterol levels, compared to 51% nationally, and 29% had high blood pressure, compared to 21% nationally.

The slightly higher numbers in Orange County are not considered statistically significant; the surprise is that “the numbers weren’t lower,” Manchester said.

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Researchers were also taken aback that almost 20% of people screened who had cardiovascular disease were not under the care of a physician, and 20% of those who had had a cardiovascular procedure in the past were not currently under a doctor’s care.

“A large percentage of screened individuals in whom we detected an abnormality were unaware” that they had a problem, “but there was a large percentage who knew they had an abnormality but weren’t following up on it,” Manchester said. The cardiologist said he cannot explain the findings at this stage.

More in keeping with expectations were findings that Orange County residents smoked less and weighed less compared to the national average, Manchester said. Fifty-seven percent of county participants were above ideal body weight, compared to 64% nationally. Six percent of county participants smoked, half the national percentage.

Sixteen percent of Orange County participants showed elevated blood sugar levels, perhaps indicative of a diabetic tendency, compared to 20% nationwide, not a statistically significant difference, Manchester said.

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The study is mostly based on screenings of corporate employees throughout the county, but also includes some community screening data, Manchester said. Participants include men between the ages of 21 and 88, and women age 21 to 86. More than 370,000 people are participating in the study nationally.


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