The North Karelia Project was the first population-based cardiovascular disease prevention programme. Even though it achieved, as compared to the reference population, a sizeable reduction in smoking and small effect in blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels, the effect on coronary and cardiovascular mortality of the programme remains equivocal. This is mainly due to shortcomings in the original study design and unanticipated start of the national decline in coronary mortality at the same time with the programme. North Karelia Project contributed, however, to the initiation of national activities in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. These have produced a favourable trend in lipids in the whole Finnish population. The recommendations and activities by national authorities and organizations have suffered, until recently, from orientation towards screening and individual risk factors. The success in North Karelia in early 1970's in the reduction of smoking has still not occurred nationally. Further emphasis is needed in the population approach and in the integration of preventive activities into the community and legislation.