The National Health Service (NHS) health check for patients aged 40 has little impact, a new study has suggested.

The UK NHS health check is the largest program aimed to assess and manage cardiovascular risks, but research has shown that identification of risk factors failed to meet national and international targets.

The program gives cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment every 5 years for individuals aged 40 to 74 years old who are not known to have any existing vascular diseases. Those assessed to have an increased risk of developing CVD later on in life are advised to adapt to lifestyle changes or be prescribed with drugs.

However, the program has been controversial since its launch in 2009 because of lack of randomized clinical trials to evaluate its reliability.

Kiara Chang of the Department of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Public Health in Imperial College, London and colleagues wanted to test its effectiveness and conducted a review of electronic medical records of 138,788 patients aged 40 to 74.

They found out that attending the health check program only resulted in modest overall decline in modeled cardiovascular risk. All attendees have similar body mass index, diastolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol regardless of their baseline modeled cardiovascular risk.

The researchers calculated that for every 4,762 attendees, only one heart attack or stroke is prevented. They found it alarming that only 21 percent of individuals eligible for the program attended at all.

"For the NHS health check scheme to be effective, it needs to be better planned and implemented – our work will help highlight how this can be done," said lead investigator professor Azeem Majeed of the School of Public Health. "It would also be interesting to investigate the reasons why the health check produced such modest benefits."

CVD is the leading cause of death worldwide. Risk assessment is crucial in preventing the disease to progress. Doctors and scientists have come up with several studies to help find effective ways to stop the incidence of CVD. For instance, one study has found that more than a million lives would be saved if people start consuming more of healthy fats rather than unhealthy fats.

Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, believes that modest gains are still better than zero gains. Knapton said the goal is to improve the number of attendees and make sure they are getting the right advice and treatment to manage their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The study was published in Canadian Medical Association Journal on May 2.

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