Dr Thomas Dawber

Framingham Heart Study pioneer

Thomas Royle Dawber, epidemiologist: born Duncan, British Columbia 18 January 1913; Director of the Framingham Study, US National Heart Institute 1949-66; Chairman of Preventive Medicine, Boston University 1966-80; married 1937 Eleanor Ronimus (one son, one daughter); died Naples, Florida 23 November 2005.

Thomas Dawber led the Framingham Heart Study, the research that identified the major risk factors for heart disease. Based on the residents of Framingham, a town near Boston, Massachusetts, with a stable population, the study looked for the causes of heart disease and tested strategies to prevent it.

Unlike earlier research, which looked at heart patients and tried to deduce a common thread in their lives, the study recruited 5,209 healthy men and women aged 30 to 60 and followed their life styles and medical histories. Thus, when any developed heart disease, researchers could identify the causes. This goal, to find the cause of heart disease and prevent it, was a confused one; heart disease was so poorly understood that it was too early to prevent it, so Dawber focused on looking for causes.

In 1961 he and colleagues published a landmark study, "Factors of Risk in the Development of Coronary Heart Disease - six-year follow-up experience: the Framingham Study" in The Annals of Internal Medicine, that put forward the concept of risk factors in coronary heart disease, and identified the major ones. These were high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and defects in the heartbeat rhythm. It also noted hints of a connection between smoking and heart disease. In 1988, they reported the association between "type A behaviour" - tenseness and aggression - and heart disease. Heart disease caused by the build-up of fat in arteries had previously been considered an inevitable part of the ageing process. Framingham showed that this was not so.

The Framingham Study was started in 1948 by the US public health service. It did not do well in its first year, which is why Dawber was appointed: his clout as a physician motivated the townspeople of Framingham to participate. Funding was rapidly taken over by the newly established US National Heart Institute. In the early days, other medical scientists looked on the project as a fool's errand.

Dawber was born in Duncan, British Columbia, where his father was a Methodist minister; his parents had emigrated from Knutsford, Cheshire, two years earlier. They later moved to Philadelphia, where he went to Haverford College. He entered Harvard medical school in 1933, graduating in 1937 before working for 12 years with the US coastguard service, based at Brighton Marine Hospital, near Boston, where he ended up as chief of medicine.

He spent two decades at the Heart Institute, also in Boston, working on Framingham, until 1966, leaving in part because of budget cuts to move to Boston University as chairman of preventive medicine. The Framingham Study had been planned to last 20 years and the US government wanted to close it down.

Dawber spent the following 14 years at Boston University, taking the Framingham Study with him, although he stood down as director. He raised $500,000 from private sources to keep it going. As the work continued, the US government relented and resumed the funding. Further findings included the connection between high blood pressure and stroke, and the benefits of "good" (high-density) cholesterol. The study continues and now includes the children and grandchildren of the original participants. Dawber retired when he was 67 to Naples, Florida, and spent much of his time sailing.

Tall, distinguished-looking, with early grey hair and a twinkle in his eye, "Roy" Dawber felt it wrong to boast about his accomplishments. He was a good carpenter, played the piano and wind instruments, and was an Elvis fan.

Caroline Richmond

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Recruitment Genius: Appointment Maker - OTE £20,000

£14000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An office based Appointment Mak...

Recruitment Genius: Healthcare Assistant

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This provider of care services is looking for...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent