Gender differences in the association between education and the incidence of cardiovascular events in Northern Italy

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Background: The educational differences in the incidence of major cardiovascular events are under-studied in Southern Europe and among women. Methods: The study sample includes n = 5084 participants to 4 population-based Northern Italian cohorts, aged 35–74 at baseline and with no previous cardiovascular events. The follow-up to ascertain the first onset of coronary heart disease (CHD) or ischaemic stroke ended in 2002. At baseline, major cardiovascular risk factors were investigated adopting the standardized MONICA procedures. Two educational classes were obtained from years of schooling. Age- and risk factors-adjusted hazard ratios of first CHD or ischaemic stroke were estimated through sex-specific separate Cox models (high education as reference). Results: Median follow-up time was 12 years. Event rates were 6.38 (CHD) and 2.12 (ischaemic stroke) per 1000 person-years in men; and 1.59 and 0.94 in women. In men, low education was associated with higher mean Body Mass Index and prevalence of diabetes and cigarette smokers; but also with higher HDL cholesterol and a more favourable alcohol intake pattern. Less-educated women had higher mean systolic blood pressure, Body Mass Index and HDL cholesterol and were more likely to have diabetes. Men and women in the low educational class had a 2-fold increase in ischaemic stroke and CHD incidence, respectively, after controlling for major risk factors. Education was not associated with CHD incidence in men. Higher ischaemic stroke rates were observed among more educated women. Conclusion: In this northern Italian population, the association between education and cardiovascular risk seems to vary by gender.

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