Scottish veterans’ heart health improving

Published: 13 July 2021

The risk of Scottish veterans developing heart disease is improving, according to new research.

The risk of Scottish veterans developing heart disease is improving, according to new research.

Dr Beverly Bergman sitting in a chair, smiling facing the camera

The study – led by the University of Glasgow, in partnership with the Forces in Mind Trust and published in BMJ Open – compared veterans with people who had never served and found that the increased risk of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease had reduced compared with a similar study five years ago, although it is still higher than in the wider community.

The researchers suggest that these new findings are due to reducing levels of smoking in the Armed Forces; and whilst this is positive news for the success of military health promotion policies in recent years, tobacco use in the military remains higher than in civilians, and that it will be important to continue efforts to promote smoking cessation.

Lead researcher Dr Beverly Bergman, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor and leader of the Scottish Veterans Health Research Group at the University of Glasgow – who was recently awarded an OBE for her work on veterans – said: “Five years ago we found that veterans were at 23% higher risk of having a heart attack, a stroke or blockage of the arteries in the legs than people who had never served. In this new study, we found that the excess risk had dropped to 16%, and that it is confined to older veterans.

“We believe that the excess risk is due to the known higher rates of smoking in serving military personnel, especially in the past. Smoking in the Armed Forces is now reducing, and we can see the effect of that, but we know that there is still more that could be done. Stopping smoking, even in older age, is an important way of protecting health and preventing these life-changing diseases.”

Thomas McBarnet, Director of Programmes at Forces in Mind Trust, said: “It’s vital that we understand the specific needs of ex-Service personnel so we can ensure services are optimised to meet those needs. We believe that no one should be disadvantaged because of their military service, and recognising how ex-Service personnel’s lives and experience differ from the general population is essential for providing the right support to the Armed Forces Community.

“So it is good news that the risk of developing heart disease for ex-Service personnel is decreasing, but there is still more to do to continue to improve this trend’.

The retrospective cohort study, using data from the Trends in Scottish Veterans’ Health Study, looked at 78,000 veterans and 253,000 non-veterans in Scotland born between 1945 and 1995, matched for age, sex and area of residence. The study used survival analysis to examine the risk of cardiovascular disease in veterans compared with non-veterans and explored associations with other conditions including mental health disorders and diabetes.

The study, ‘Trends in Cardiovascular Disease in Scottish Military Veterans: A Retrospective Cohort Study ’ is published in BMJ Open. The study was funded by the Forces in Mind Trust.

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First published: 13 July 2021

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