Spouses Share Risks for Heart Disease

Couples May Have Similarities in Risk Factors Such as Smoking or High Body Mass Index

By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 9, 2009 -- We've all heard that opposites attract. That may not be true, at least when it comes to coronary risk factors.

A new study shows that if one spouse has risk factors for heart disease, the other spouse is more likely to share similarities in measures of health, such as smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL "bad" cholesterol, and weight.

Smoking and body mass index have the most significant correlations.

The report, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, evaluated 71 existing research papers that looked at similarities for major coronary risk factors in more than 100,000 pairs of spouses.

There may be reasons for the similarity between spouses, according to the researchers. First, spouses share environmental factors; they have the same lifestyle. Secondly, people tend to be attracted to mates like themselves, a phenomenon called positive assortative mating.

The researchers argue that interventions that try to reduce coronary risk factors should be aimed at couples and families instead of just individuals. "This concept may bring an important public health message, because prevention policy for cardiovascular disease could also be targeted toward apparently healthy spousal partners of individuals with an obviously increased cardiovascular risk," the researchers write in their conclusion.

SOURCES: Di Castelnuovo, A. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2009; vol 169.

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