We are saddened by the passing of William B. Kannel, M.D., a dedicated public servant who died this weekend of colon cancer at the age of 87 after an esteemed 60-year career in cardiovascular epidemiology. Dr. Kannel transformed health globally as a leader of the groundbreaking Framingham Heart Study, which defined heart disease's major risk factors—a term Kannel coined—including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and cigarette smoking. Since its launch in the 1940s, the study has followed 15,000 people in three generations in the town of Framingham, MA to document the differences between those who developed heart disease and who did not.
"In 1961, with just two words—'risk factors'— Bill Kannel helped to change our understanding of the underlying causes of heart disease and stroke, and the entire field of preventive medicine was born," said Dan Levy, M.D., the current Framingham Heart Study director, director of the NHLBI's Center for Population Studies, and a longtime colleague of Dr. Kannel's. "Risk factors represented a quantum leap in 20th century medicine. No longer would heart disease be viewed as an inevitable condition that struck people in the prime of life without warning. Rather, there were factors underlying the disease that would lead to new treatments to prevent the leading killer of men and women in our country."
Dr. Kannel's work paved the way for the prevention and treatment of heart disease through lifestyle changes and medical interventions, such as eating a healthy diet, getting enough physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Dr. Kannel made numerous research contributions toward understanding risk factors for strokes, heart attacks, sudden death, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease. He also served as a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, which conducts the Framingham Heart Study in collaboration with the NIH.