This year, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Framingham Heart Study also celebrates its 75th anniversary! For decades, the study — based in Framingham, Massachusetts — has followed multiple generations of families to help figure out what causes heart disease. Although the first generation of participants have passed, their legacy lives on through their children.
Among Framingham’s multi-generational families studied is the Fair family. Sheila Burke Fair’s parents and her in-laws were part of the first group of study participants. Sheila has diligently continued her involvement, along with her four children — Alison, Colin, Erin, and Timothy.
Fast fact: More than 15,000 people from three generations have enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study. In the 1990s, the study added new cohorts to increase its diversity. Every few years, all participants go to Framingham, Massachusetts for onsite research exams. They get their vital signs taken and their blood sugar monitored, submit food logs, and engage in mental and physical exercises.
Sweet inspiration: “You never say no to the heart study.” That’s the mantra of the Fair family. Meeting in Framingham for appointments is simply a part of life, and it continues to bring the family together. “Giving a few hours every few years is very much worth it because we’re contributing to what the study has done and will continue to do,” says Colin.
Big impact. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Data collected through the Framingham Heart Study helps scientists understand what traits and lifestyle changes might signal or prevent heart disease. Thanks to the study, we know that smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and even COVID-19 can cause heart disease. Participants also find the routine check-ups valuable — Sheila credits the study for saving her mother’s life when an exam detected thyroid cancer early.
Bright future. The siblings in the third-generation Fair family have six children who they would love to see become part of the study someday. “The fourth generation is very excited and curious as to when their turn will be,” says Alison. In the future, the Framingham Heart Study promises to use the latest technology to discover even more heart disease risk factors and to find other testing methods that can help save lives.
To learn more about the NHLBI’s epidemiological population studies, visit the NHLBI website.