Is prevention a fantasy, or the future of medicine? A panoramic view of recent data, status, and direction in cardiovascular prevention

Ther Adv Cardiovasc Dis. 2011 Feb;5(1):61-81. doi: 10.1177/1753944710391350. Epub 2010 Dec 23.


Americans are under assault by a fierce epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, of their own doing. Lowered death rates from heart disease and reduced rates of smoking are seriously threatened by the inexorable rise in overweight and obesity. Latest data indicate that 32% of children are overweight or obese, and fewer than 17% exercise sufficiently. Over 68% of adults are overweight, 35% are obese, nearly 40% fulfill criteria for the metabolic syndrome, 8-13% have diabetes, 34% have hypertension, 36% have prehypertension, 29% have prediabetes, 15% of the population with either diabetes, hypertension, or dyslipidemia are undiagnosed, 59% engage in no vigorous activity, and fewer than 5% of the US population qualifies for the American Heart Association (AHA) definition of ideal cardiovascular health. Health, nutrition, and exercise illiteracy is prevalent, while misinformation and unrealistic expectations are the norm. Half of American adults have at least one cardiovascular risk factor. Up to 65% do not have their conventional risk biomarkers under control. Of those patients with multiple risk factors, fewer than 10% have all of them adequately controlled. Even when patients are treated according to evidence-based protocols, about 70% of cardiac events remain unaddressed. Undertreatment is also common. Poor patient adherence, probably well below 50%, adds further difficulty in reducing cardiovascular risk. Available data indicate that only a modest fraction of the total cardiovascular risk burden in the population is actually now being eliminated. A fresh view of these issues, a change in current philosophy, leading to new and different, multimechanistic methods of prevention may be needed. Adherence to published guidelines will improve substantially outcomes in both primary and secondary prevention. Primordial prevention, which does not allow risk values to appear in a population, affords more complete protection than subsequent partial reversal of elevated risk factors or biomarkers. Current evidence supports recent calls for massive educational programs supporting primordial prevention, individual responsibility and pride in achieving population-wide ideal cardiovascular health through lifestyle modification. Environmental and social changes will be necessary, along with major supportive adjustments in the food industry and the assistance of the media. Cooperation is critical to the success of such an initiative.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Child
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Preventive Health Services / trends*
  • Preventive Medicine / trends*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Young Adult


  • Cardiovascular Agents