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Research Links Diet to Heart Disease

Med School Dean Initiated Study 23 Years Ago


The results of a 23-year study initiated by Dr. Oglesby Paul '38, dean of admissions at the Medical School, convincingly link high-cholesterol food with the incidence of fatal heart disease, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine stated last week.

This study is the first to "confirm the suspicion that diet can contribrute to changes in the blood cholesterol levels," Paul said yesterday. Researchers have said for a decade that high blood cholesterol levels contribute to heartdisease.

Sponsored by Western Electric, Paul began the study in 1956 at the Rush. Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.

Researchers surveyed the eating habits of 1,900 Western Electric employees in the Chicago area, hoping to "identify the factors responsible for heart attacks," Paul said. Under the original grant, which was expected to run for five years, the workers came for an initial interview, returning for annual visits to answer questionnaires concerning their diet and give blood samples.

After initial results showed a correlation between diet and cholesterol levels, Western Electric extended the project.

Richard B. Shekelle, a researcher at St. Lukes, took over as director of the study when Paul moved to Harvard in 1977.

In the last three years, Shekelle has used death certificates of the workers studied earlier to find a 14-per-cent incidence of fatal heart disease among subjects with "high cholesterol diets," compared to an 11-per-cent rate for those in the lower-cholesterol category.

Although the figures are similar, Shekelle explained in the study that disparity would have been more dramatic if one group had eaten controlled diets with low cholesterol. Both groups consumed relatively large amounts of cholesterol, Shekelle added.

Paul is currently chairman of the government funded Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, a group trying to alter common eating patterns which may lead to heart trouble.

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