BOGALUSA, La. – It was groundbreaking research here in Southeast Louisiana by Dr. Gerald Berenson of both LSU Health Sciences Center and Tulane Medical Center.
The Bogalusa Heart Study taught us, if your childhood weight was high, if you did not exercise and eat fruits and vegetables, and if your parents smoked, you were at risk for heart disease as an adult.
Now the doctors want to find out even more.
Dena Willis was just 11 years old when she was first examined in school for the Bogalusa Heart Study. LSUHSC, and then Tulane doctors, began in 1973 examining more than 12,000 children for decades, to see how their diets, exercise, weight and smoking contributed to heart disease later in life.
“It made me think about things I was putting in my mouth and things that I should be doing health wise, exercise and diet,” said Willis, 53.
With more than 1,000 published scientific studies, the study showed doctors worldwide that lifestyle from the time you are in the womb, and as a child, contributes to the heart disease as an adult.
“There is no other study that has population with information going back to childhood among African-American and white people in the world,” said Dr. Lydia Bazzano, a Tulane Associate Professor of Epidemiology.
Now, Dena is back being tested. The Bogalusa Heart Study is doing four new studies on those children, who are now middle-aged. Did lifestyle cause gestational diabetes, high blood pressure? How are they aging mentally and physically? Do they have heart problems and did their parents smoking around them hurt their hearts?
“Privileged in a way that I’m helping and it’s not only helping me, but it’s helping to get a better study,” said Todd Graham, 47 , about returning to the study.
“I learned about my high blood pressure, my diabetes, my eyes, and my health.I learned a lot about it,” said Felicia Graves, who came back to the study at 46.
When some of the participants came back and had their echocardiogram for the study, doctors found heart trouble they didn’t know about. Some patients have needed immediate attention. One even needed surgery.
But not all of the original children are back. Some have passed away. Some are in prison. Some moved away. So over the next several years, Tulane doctors are hoping to find the rest.
Right now, they have only found about 1,400 of the more than 12,000 people who were in the original Bogalusa Heart Study. If you were one of them, or know how to get in touch with someone, call 985-735-9861.