BOSTON — A pioneer in the study of heart disease died Saturday at the age of 87. Dr. William Kannel helped develop the famous Framingham heart study, and was a professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
In the 1950s, doctors didn’t understand why so many people were having heart attacks. They thought high blood pressure was something that just happened when you got older. And they didn’t connect smoking and getting fat with heart problems.
So Kannel and others developed a long-term study in Framingham to see what caused heart disease attacks. He interviewed Framingham residents about their diets and other habits.
Dr. Vasan Ramachandran worked on the study in recent years with Kannel.
“People came in every two years, so he measured the risk factors, and then he followed the people who developed heart attacks and who developed strokes,” Ramachandran said.
The term “risk factors” literally didn’t exist in medicine before Kannel wrote a seminal paper on the subject in 1961. Boston University School of Medicine Dean Karen Antman said Kannel revolutionized the way we think about heart disease.
“He absolutely changed it from a disease that we diagnosed when somebody had a heart attack and died to a disease where we looked for things that caused cardiovascular disease and prevented them, literally,” Antman said.
Kannel may have identified the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, but he seemed frustrated with Americans’ progress in preventing it.
“We advocate weight loss, certainly it is justified. But we haven’t a clue about how to achieve sustained weight loss. I think we need better portion control in our eating habits,” said Kannel while giving a lecture at Boston University in 2010.
Kannel died Saturday from cancer.