University of Minnesota

Arden House Conference on the Epidemiology of Atherosclerosis and Hypertension

January 29 – February 2, 1956

Jerry Stamler provides insights into the provenance and tenor of one of the early conferences on CVD epidemiological studies and methods, called by the National Heart Institute and the American Heart Association in 1956, when formal epidemiological studies were gearing up in earnest:

“That was the famous Arden House conference, up the Hudson on the Harriman estate. There’s a hill up there overlooking the Hudson River, a gorgeous hill with forests. A typical railroad estate of the late 19th century, early 20th century, which even the Harrimans couldn’t maintain and they gave it to some kind of charity.

This meeting was held there. It was a long meeting [5 days]. All the epidemiologists already working were invited to that and Jim Watt [then Director of the National Heart Institute] very cleverly selected younger people who had famous senior chiefs, the protégés which Jim Watt wanted to get into the act. So Oley Paul was invited; he had just come to Chicago. Paul White from Boston; I was invited. They knew about me from the chicken work, but I was in Louis Katz’s department [and he] was then President of American Heart and President of the American Physiological Society. Very smart to get all these key people in cardiology and also to get [their] young people involved.

I learned from some of the discussions: one of the big issues that arose was should we at this meeting exchange forms or would we be preempted and would something be “stolen” from us if at this meeting we discussed common tools? It was a long way from [the suspicions] there to the National Cooperative Pooling Project. So that was the issue [of common methods] very early on.” (Labarthe interview with J. Stamler, 2002)

Arden House proceedings provide the background for the conference: these were the specific aims (Arden House Conference, 1956):

  • Review the current etiologic concepts of atherosclerosis and hypertension
  • Assess the tools and methods available at present for testing hypotheses as to etiology through population studies
  • Suggest additional observations, new tools of measurement and refinements of study methods for future study
  • Explore the resources available for such studies and suggest developmental needs and steps to meet them.

Background Report: II. D. Procedures for the design of epidemiological studies.

“Most of the scientific methods known to the natural, biological, medical, and social sciences may eventually be used in epidemiological investigation. Principally we use biostatistical methods and those of medical diagnosis and treatment, plus laboratory diagnostic techniques. Because of the potentially important social aspects of atherosclerosis and hypertension the methods of social science are used increasingly. The epidemiologist obviously is not skilled in the use of methods from all theses sciences so he must call upon experts, freely, and be able to evaluate the contributions from these other disciplines to a solution of the problems before him. He also needs to know something about the disease, defect, or disability under study. Without such insight he would be no more than a technician.

The least we can do is start with investigations of measurable differences found among representative samples and other identifiable segments of the population. One can test the reliability and validity of these differences and then attempt to discover how these differences are associated with the later development of disease variations, time and place of occurrence, and a host of other factors.”

Arden Conference participants included noted clinicians, senior and junior, such as:

David Spain, Oglesby Paul, George Perera, and Jerry Stamler; and public health types, statisticians, or epidemiologists, such as: Gurney Clark, Sidney Cobb, Paul Densen, Thomas Francis, Herman Hilleboe, and Marjorie Bellows

And USPHS staff, such as:

James Watt, Thomas Dublin, Felix Moore, William Stewart, and William Zukel

The Arden House Conference pointed the way and led to more definitive methods conferences at Brookline, MA in 1957 and at Princeton in 1959, the latter proceedings being published in the American Journal of Public Health, 1960. (Henry Blackburn)


Proceedings of the Arden House Conference on the Epidemiology of Atherosclerosis and Hypertension. (AHA and NHI sponsored) Harriman, NY, January 29 to February 2, 1956. American Heart Association.

Pollock, H. and Krueger, D.E., eds. 1960. ‘Epidemiology of cardiovascular diseases methodology: hypertension and arteriosclerosis. Report of a conference, 1959, American Heart Association–National Heart Institute’. Am J Public Health. 50: (suppl): 1-124.

Jeremiah Stamler, in an interview recorded by Darwin Labarthe, 9 August 2002, Chicago, IL, History of Cardiovascular Epidemiology Collection, University of Minnesota.