Background: Our objective was to describe the reduction in relative risk of developing major chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer associated with 4 healthy lifestyle factors among German adults.
Methods: We used data from 23,153 German participants aged 35 to 65 years from the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam study. End points included confirmed incident type 2 diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, stroke, and cancer. The 4 factors were never smoking, having a body mass index lower than 30 (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared), performing 3.5 h/wk or more of physical activity, and adhering to healthy dietary principles (high intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain bread and low meat consumption). The 4 factors (healthy, 1 point; unhealthy, 0 points) were summed to form an index that ranged from 0 to 4.
Results: During a mean follow-up of 7.8 years, 2006 participants developed new-onset diabetes (3.7%), myocardial infarction (0.9%), stroke (0.8%), or cancer (3.8%). Fewer than 4% of participants had zero healthy factors, most had 1 to 3 healthy factors, and approximately 9% had 4 factors. After adjusting for age, sex, educational status, and occupational status, the hazard ratio for developing a chronic disease decreased progressively as the number of healthy factors increased. Participants with all 4 factors at baseline had a 78% (95% confidence interval [CI], 72% to 83%) lower risk of developing a chronic disease (diabetes, 93% [95% CI, 88% to 95%]; myocardial infarction, 81% [95% CI, 47% to 93%]; stroke, 50% [95% CI, -18% to 79%]; and cancer, 36% [95% CI, 5% to 57%]) than participants without a healthy factor.
Conclusion: Adhering to 4 simple healthy lifestyle factors can have a strong impact on the prevention of chronic diseases.