University of Minnesota

CVD Epidemiology Takes Mainstage, 1954

Ancel Keys and Paul White first inserted concepts about population differences and prevention of cardiovascular diseases into the mainstream of international cardiology. The occasion was dramatic, the first panel symposium before a plenary session of the Second World Congress of Cardiology in the fall of 1954 in Washington, D.C. Panel members included Keys and White, Noboru Kimura of Japan, Jeremy Morris of London, Gunnar Bjork of Sweden, and John Higginson of the UKC— experts who embraced clinical, laboratory, and population strategies of research.

There in Washington the population evidence was aired in extensor before the world community of cardiological leaders and was later documented in a small volume, now a rare classic called: Cardiovascular Epidemiology, edited by Keys & White and published in 1956.

In 1954 I was a Fellow in Medicine at the University of Minnesota on a six-month research rotation in the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene. With Minnesota colleagues I attended that historic symposium, seated in the front row of the darkened theater, facing a brightly lit stage. There the noted actors, all pioneers in the field, made short, hard-hitting presentations and then joined in a vigorous panel discussion about possible causes for the population differences in heart attack and stroke and their implications.

At the close, we all left the hall exhilarated by the “mainstreaming” of this new research strategy and full of new and positive ideas about cultural causes and prevention of heart attacks. The evidence fit our earlier experience in medical missions and refugee camps, in which social chaos and oppression, poverty, ignorance, and superstition, all played a critical role in the mass phenomena of common and epidemic diseases. CVD epidemiology seemed to go beyond medicine to prevention and beyond the individual case to the wider health of populations. At that juncture, it was new and different, an open door to adventure. (Henry Blackburn)