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Background The American Heart Association (AHA) recently developed the Cardiovascular Health Index (CVHI), a health metric consisting of 7 modifiable risk factors. The relationship of the CVHI with preclinical markers, such as carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) has not been assessed.

Methods We examined 490 male monozygotic and dizygotic twins without overt cardiovascular disease. CIMT was measured using B-mode ultrasonography. Each of the 7 CVHI components (blood pressure, fasting glucose, total cholesterol, body mass index, physical activity, healthy diet, and smoking) was given a point score of 0, 1, or 2 to represent poor, intermediate, or ideal health, respectively. A CVHI summation score was computed (range 0 to 14) and categorized as inadequate (0 to 4), average (5 to 9), or optimum (10 to 14) cardiovascular health. Mixed-model regression was used to examine the association of the CVHI with CIMT.

Results The mean age of the twins was 55.4 years, and 61% were monozygotic. The mean CIMT was 0.75 (±0.11) mm and the mean CVHI score was 7.7 (±2.1). There was an inverse correlation between CVHI and CIMT (Spearman r=−0.22, P<0.01). For every 5-unit increase in overall CVHI score (indicating better cardiovascular health category), CIMT decreased by 0.045 mm (P<0.001) after adjusting for demographic variables and other confounders. Within monozygotic twin pairs, a 5-unit increment in CVHI score was associated with a 0.05 mm lower CIMT (P<0.001).

Conclusions The CVHI is independently associated with CIMT and the association is not confounded by shared genetic and other familial factors.


Originally published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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