Application of a Lifestyle-Based Tool to Estimate Premature Cardiovascular Disease Events in Young Adults: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study

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Few tools exist for assessing the risk for early atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) events in young adults.


To assess the performance of the Healthy Heart Score (HHS), a lifestyle-based tool that estimates ASCVD events in older adults, for ASCVD events occurring before 55 years of age.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This prospective cohort study included 4893 US adults aged 18 to 30 years from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Participants underwent measurement of lifestyle factors from March 25, 1985, through June 7, 1986, and were followed up for a median of 27.1 years (interquartile range, 26.9-27.2 years). Data for this study were analyzed from February 24 through December 12, 2016.


The HHS includes age, smoking status, body mass index, alcohol intake, exercise, and a diet score composed of self-reported daily intake of cereal fiber, fruits and/or vegetables, nuts, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red and/or processed meats. The HHS in the CARDIA study was calculated using sex-specific equations produced by its derivation cohorts.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The ability of the HHS to assess the 25-year risk for ASCVD (death from coronary heart disease, nonfatal myocardial infarction, and fatal or nonfatal ischemic stroke) in the total sample, in race- and sex-specific subgroups, and in those with and without clinical ASCVD risk factors at baseline. Model discrimination was assessed with the Harrell C statistic; model calibration, with Greenwood-Nam-D’Agostino statistics.


The study population of 4893 participants included 2205 men (45.1%) and 2688 women (54.9%) with a mean (SD) age at baseline of 24.8 (3.6) years; 2483 (50.7%) were black; and 427 (8.7%) had at least 1 clinical ASCVD risk factor (hypertension, hyperlipidemia, or diabetes types 1 and 2). Among these participants, 64 premature ASCVD events occurred in women and 99 in men. The HHS showed moderate discrimination for ASCVD risk assessment in this diverse population of mostly healthy young adults (C statistic, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.66-0.76); it performed better in men (C statistic, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.68-0.79) than in women (C statistic, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.62-0.75); in white (C statistic, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.71-0.84) than in black (C statistic, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.60-0.72) participants; and in those without (C statistic, 0.71; 95% CI, 0.66-0.76) vs with (C statistic, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.55-0.73) clinical risk factors at baseline. The HHS was adequately calibrated overall and within each subgroup.

Conclusions and Relevance

The HHS, when measured in younger persons without ASCVD risk factors, performs moderately well in assessing risk for ASCVD events by early middle age. Its reliance on self-reported, modifiable lifestyle factors makes it an attractive tool for risk assessment and counseling for early ASCVD prevention.

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