William B. Kannel, an epidemiologist whose work for six decades on the landmark helped revolutionize the way heart disease is treated, died Aug. 20 at a nursing center in Natick. He was 87 and had colon cancer, his daughter Patricia Hoffman told the Washington Post.
Any patient ever told by a doctor to eat better, exercise more, lose weight, quit smoking or take cholesterol medication to lower the risk of heart disease owes that life-saving advice in large part to Dr. Kannel, reported the Washington Post.
Although those guidelines may sound like common knowledge today, they did not exist in 1950 when Dr. Kannel joined the fledgling Framingham Heart Study. The study, originally overseen by the U.S. Public Health Service, is recognized as one of the top medical achievements of the past century.
Henry Blackburn, a professor emeritus with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said that Dr. Kannel did “most of the heavy work” on the concepts behind the project and the writing that came from it. As its director from 1966 until 1979, he kept the project running and funded by being its “squeaky wheel.”
At its inception, the study proposed to follow the lives of 5,209 people in Framingham. The goal: To determine the causes of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Little was known about “risk factors” — years later, Dr. Kannel would be credited with coining that term — and American death rates were skyrocketing.