Martti Karvonen, MD, PhD
1918 — 2009
Martti Karvonen is a “founding father” of cardiovascular epidemiology and prevention in Finland and internationally. He was educated at the University of Helsinki, receiving his MD in 1945, started his academic career at the Department of Physiology there, and got his PhD degree at the University of Cambridge, UK, in 1950. His research was first directed to work and sports physiology and in 1950 he became director of the Department of Physiology at the Institute of Occupational Health, rising to become director general of that institute. Karvonen served from 1956-66 as chief physician of the Finnish Air Forces, and from 1974-78 as chief physician of the Finnish Army. After retirement as major general he was visiting professor at the University of Dortmund, Germany and consultant to the WHO Division of Cardiovascular Diseases.
Martti Karvonen’s pioneering work in cardiovascular epidemiology began in the middle of the 1950s, when he started with Ancel Keys the first epidemiological studies on coronary heart disease and its risk factors in East and Southwest Finland. These exploratory studies led in 1959 to Finnish participation in the Seven Countries Study. In 1959, Karvonen, Osmo Turpeinen, and Paavo Roine started the well-known Finnish Mental Hospital Study, a 12-year cross-over group trial of coronary prevention by dietary fat modification in two mental hospitals.
Karvonen was primus motor in the initiative which led in 1972 to the launching of the North Karelia Project, a comprehensive community-based program for cardiovascular disease prevention in the high-risk eastern province of Finland. With these and other seminal works and insights, and his profound influence on dozens of young careers, Karvonen led Finland to an early and strong start in cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention. (KP)