There’s probably no greater public health issue than the long-term consequences of the childhood obesity epidemic. So the Wall Street Journal should be commended for digging into some of the important science behind this problem in a feature article in today’s paper. The author, Ron Winslow, is widely regarded as the best working journalist who regularly covers cardiovascular medicine. But I’m afraid the article fails to raise several key questions about the topic and therefore misses an opportunity to educate people about its complexities.
The article deals with the “growing concerns about the cardiovascular health of millions of children in the U.S. who are considered obese or overweight” and then focuses on one recent study published in Pediatrics that “suggests there is a simple way to assess a child’s arterial health with a calculation based on an often-overlooked component of cholesterol: triglycerides.” Winslow faithfully reports the main finding of the study, which is that the triglyceride to HDL ratio corresponds closely with arterial stiffness. A stiff vessel is a sign of “accelerated aging” and “likely raises the risk of dangerous outcomes relatively early in adult life,” writes Winslow.
Winslow notes that an NHLBI panel now recommends universal cholesterol screening for children between 9 and 11, but there is no mention that some experts disagree with this recommendation. Further, these screening tests focus on the measurement of LDL cholesterol. Winslow doesn’t discuss whether LDL would be equally effective as triglycerides and HDL at identifying children with stiff arteries. Winslow writes, reasonably, that high triglycerides and low HDL “are a hallmark reflection of the poor diets and sedentary lifestyles that researchers say are behind the wide prevalence of obesity among both children and adults,” but there’s a big gap between that association and concrete recommendations to measure HDL and triglycerides in children and, more importantly, to take actions based on these measurements.
Click here to read the full story on Forbes.
The results of HPS2-THRIVE were “disappointing but clear,” said Jane Armitage, who presented the results this morning at the ACC in San Francisco.
HPS2-THRIVE randomized 25,673 high-risk patients who could tolerate niacin to either placebo or extended-release niacin plus laropiprant (Tredaptive, Merck), an anti-flushing agent, in addition to background therapy. The primary endpoint was the time to first major vascular event, defined as the composite of non-fatal MI or coronary death, any stroke or any arterial revascularization.
Major vascular events occurred in 13.2% of the niacin arm and 13.7% of the placebo arm (p=0.29), despite causing average reductions in LDL of 10 mg.dL and triglycerides of 33 mg/dL, in addition to a 6 mg/dL increase in HDL. Armitrage reported that based on data from previous trials and observational studies, “it was anticipated such lipid differences might translate into a 10-15% reduction in vascular events.”
HPS2-THRIVE study chairman, Rory Collins, responded to a question in the press conference: “To the question is niacin dead? Well, it’s not healthy!”
Click here to read the full story on Forbes.
There’s a glimmer of good news amidst all the recent bad news about diabetes. Although the prevalence of diabetes has doubled over the last generation, more people today are reaching their treatment goals than in the past. New data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), published online today in Diabetes Care, show that efforts to control hemoglobin A1C, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol in patients diagnosed with diabetes have achieved some success, but they also demonstrate that there’s enormous room for improvement.
Click here to read the full post on Forbes.
In the wake of HPS2-THRIVE many have argued that there is no longer any reason to prescribe niacin. William Boden, the lead investigator of AIM-HIGH and COURAGE, thinks there were enough flaws in the design of the niacin trials to justify the cautious use of niacin in certain circumstances. Says Boden:
“There is evidence of clinical outcome improvement (i.e., CHD death/MI reduction) from VA-HIT for gemfibrozil; there is similar clinical outcome improvement for niacin from the Coronary Drug Project. Numerous studies show niacin’s benefit on surrogate outcome measures (i.e., quantitative coronary angiography, IVUS, cIMT, etc.). What more evidence do you need?”
“ I have not given up on niacin.”
Harlan Krumholz disagrees:
“We have to face the facts about the trials. They have failed to be supportive, and despite concerns about their flaws, they were developed by some of the best minds in our profession (including yours) and had millions of dollars devoted to them. I just feel that we cannot justify millions of people being prescribed a drug that has failed in two recent, large, prominent trials, which actually had signals of harm…”
Read the entire fascinating discussion over on CardioExchange.
A very large metaanalysis provides strong evidence that the relative reduction in risk of statins is at least as great in low-risk patients as in high-risk patients. The finding, write the authors, provides evidence that expansion of guidelines to lower risk populations should be considered.
In their paper in the Lancet, the the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ (CTT) Collaborators analyzed data from 134,537 patients in trials comparing statins to control therapy and 39,612 patients in trials comparing low and high dose statins. They examined the impact of statin therapy according to the baseline 5-year risk of a major vascular event on control therapy. Statin therapy caused a consistent reduction in the relative risk of major vascular events and all-cause mortality independent of other factors, including age, sex, baseline LDL cholesterol, or established CV disease.
Here is the rate ratio for major vascular events across five levels of risk at baseline (note that 1 mmol of LDL cholesterol is equivalent to about 39 mg/dl of LDL):
5 Year Risk Rate ratio per 1.0 mmol/L of LDL reduction
- <5% 0·62 [99% CI 0·47–0·81]
- ≥5% to <10% 0·69 [99% CI 0·60–0·79]
- ≥10% to <20% 0·79 [99% CI 0·74–0·85]
- ≥20% to <30% 0·81 [99% CI 0·77–0·86]
- ≥30% 0·79 [99% CI 0·74–0·84]
The metaanalysis found no evidence for harm associated with statin therapy, including cancer or other non-vascular mortality.
The authors noted that people in the lowest two categories of risk in the study, who are expected to have a 5 year event rate lower than 10%, are not recommended for statin therapy in current guidelines. As generic statins are highly cost-effective, the result “suggests that these guidelines might need to be reconsidered.”
In an accompanying comment, Shah Ebrahim and Juan Casas ask whether everyone over the age of 50 should take statins. They calculate that, in the UK, adoption of a threshold of 10% would result in 83% of men over 50 years of age and 56% of women over the age of 60 as needing statins.
Click here to read the Lancet press release…