Background: Primary prevention programmes in many countries attempt to reduce mortality and morbidity due to coronary heart disease (CHD) through risk factor modification. It is widely believed that multiple risk factor intervention using counselling and educational methods is efficacious and cost-effective and should be expanded. Recent trials examining risk factor changes have cast considerable doubt on the effectiveness of these multiple risk factor interventions.
Objectives: To assess the effects of multiple risk factor intervention for reducing cardiovascular risk factors, total mortality, and mortality from CHD among adults without clinical evidence of established cardiovascular disease.
Search strategy: MEDLINE was searched for the original review to 1995. This was updated by searching the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials on The Cochrane Library Issue 3 2001, MEDLINE (2000 to September 2001) and EMBASE (1998 to September 2001).
Selection criteria: Intervention studies using counselling or education to modify more than one cardiovascular risk factor in adults from general populations, occupational groups, or high risk groups. Trials of less than 6 months duration were excluded.
Data collection and analysis: Data were extracted by two reviewers independently. Investigators were contacted to obtain missing information.
Main results: A total of 39 trials were found of which ten reported clinical event data. In the ten trials with clinical event end-points, the pooled odds ratios for total and CHD mortality were 0.96 (95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.92 to 1.01) and 0.96 (95% CI 0.89 to 1.04) respectively. Net changes in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and blood cholesterol were (weighted mean differences) -3.6 mmHg (95% CI -3.9 to -3.3 mmHg), -2.8 mmHg (95% CI -2.9 to -2.6 mmHg) and -0.07 mMol/l (95% CI -0.8 to -0.06 mMol/l) respectively. Odds of reduction in smoking prevalence was 20% (95% CI 8% to 31%). Statistical heterogeneity between the studies with respect to mortality and risk factor changes was due to trials focusing on hypertensive participants and those using considerable amounts of drug treatment.
Authors' conclusions: The pooled effects suggest multiple risk factor intervention has no effect on mortality. However, a small, but potentially important, benefit of treatment (about a 10% reduction in CHD mortality) may have been missed. Risk factor changes were relatively modest, were related to the amount of pharmacological treatment used, and in some cases may have been over-estimated because of regression to the mean effects, lack of intention to treat analyses, habituation to blood pressure measurement, and use of self-reports of smoking. Interventions using personal or family counselling and education with or without pharmacological treatments appear to be more effective at achieving risk factor reduction and consequent reductions in mortality in high risk hypertensive populations. The evidence suggests that such interventions have limited utility in the general population.