Dr. Bryant J. Webber of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues assessed the prevalence of atherosclerosis in U.S. armed forces personnel who died of combat or unintentional injuries from 2001 to 2011. Of the 3,832 service members included in the analysis, the average age was 26 years.
The overall prevalence of coronary or aortic atherosclerosis was 12.1 percent, the prevalence of any coronary atherosclerosis was 8.5 percent; severe coronary atherosclerosis was present in 2.3 percent, moderate in 4.7 percent, and minimal in 1.5 percent.
Age consistently produced the strongest association with atherosclerosis. Those 40 years of age and older had about seven times the prevalence of disease as compared with those age 24 and younger.
The researchers said there was a steep drop in the atherosclerosis prevalence rates compared to a similar study of autopsies of U.S. service members killed during the Korean War when 77 percent showed atherosclerosis and 45 percent in the Vietnam War.
The researchers said factors affecting the drop could be the military during the Korean War and Vietnam was drafted compared to the current and perhaps fitter voluntary military and that smoking rates have dropped in the past several decades.
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.