Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA)

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What is the goal of the CARDIA study?

The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study aims to identify factors that begin in young adulthood, which is two to three decades before the onset of cardiovascular disease in later life. The CARDIA study is designed to examine the factors that contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease, as well as to better understand the natural history of cardiovascular disease over the entire adult life.


  • CARDIA is a long-term study of cardiovascular disease beginning in young adulthood.
  • The study includes over 5,000 black and white adults who were aged 18 to 30 years in 1985 to 1986.
  • CARDIA has been following participants for over 35 years, making it one of the longest running studies of its kind.
  • The study has helped researchers understand the importance of early adulthood factors that raise the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.

What are the key findings of the CARDIA study?

Long-term studies like the CARDIA study are critical to uncovering the root causes of cardiovascular disease beginning early in life. Over the last 35 years, findings from the CARDIA study have contributed greatly to our knowledge about the importance of lifestyle and environmental factors in the development of cardiovascular disease later in life. 

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The following are some findings from CARDIA data:

  • Adults between ages 18 and 30 who have several risk factors for heart disease are two to three times more likely to develop atherosclerosis, a strong predictor of future heart disease, later in life.
  • Young adults who maintain their weight over time, even if they are overweight, have a lower risk of heart disease and are less likely to develop metabolic syndrome in middle age than those who gain weight.
  • Young adults who eat fast food often gain more weight and have a greater increase in insulin resistance in early middle age. After age 15, those who eat fast food more than twice a week compared to less than once a week gain an extra ten pounds and show a two-fold rise in insulin resistance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. 
  • Living in racially segregated neighborhoods is linked to higher blood pressure among Black adults, while moving away from segregated areas is linked with a decrease in blood pressure.

The NHLBI continues to use CARDIA data and stored biological specimens to uncover more findings. The NHLBI welcomes researchers to use the valuable resources that have been collected since the study began in 1983. Learn more about using CARDIA resources through the study website and through the NHLBI Biologic Specimen and Data Repository Coordinating Center (BioLINCC) website.

How was the CARDIA study conducted?

The CARDIA study was initially funded in 1983 to follow participants over a five-year cycle, collecting data from the participants’ two clinical exams. The study began with a group of 5,115 Black and White men and women aged 18 to 30 years between 1985 and 86. Participant selection ensured a roughly equal number of people in subgroups of race, gender, education (high school or less and more than high school), and age (18 to 24 and 25 to 30) in each of four centers: Birmingham, Alabama; Chicago, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Oakland, California.

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Study renewals have allowed for additional follow-up clinical exams. Only original CARDIA participants could participate in the follow-up exams after completing their initial exam at the start of the study. 

While the aims of each follow-up exam have varied, researchers have collected data on a variety of factors believed to be linked to heart disease in later life. These include factors with clear links to heart disease, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and other lipids, and blood glucose levels. Researchers have also collected data on physical measurements such as weight and skinfold fat, as well as lifestyle factors, such as substance use (including tobacco and alcohol), diet and exercise patterns, mental health, medical and family history, and substances the body produces like insulin. In addition, echocardiography was performed during years 5, 10, 25, and 30; cardiac computed tomography during years 15, 20, and 25; carotid ultrasound during year 20; cognitive tests at years 25, 30, and 35; and a brain magnetic resonance image (MRI) in a subset of participants at years 25, 30, and 35.