In 1948, a group of government researchers arrived in a small New England city to begin a long-term epidemiologic study of its residents. In the ensuing 42 years, their research has come to have considerable impact on health care in the United States.

The project, the Framingham Heart Study, conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, has provided surveillance of the cardiac health of a randomly selected sample of men and women from Framingham, Mass. (see accompanying story). Its prospective nature has made it possible to define factors that may eventually lead to cardiovascular disease and, as a result, has triggered national health trends geared to intervene and reduce risk.

As the data-collecting phase of the study draws to a close (funding is expected to expire in 1992), a look back over the past several decades reveals a body of valuable...

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