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1.  Job Strain and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors: Meta-Analysis of Individual-Participant Data from 47,000 Men and Women 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67323.
Job strain is associated with an increased coronary heart disease risk, but few large-scale studies have examined the relationship of this psychosocial characteristic with the biological risk factors that potentially mediate the job strain – heart disease association.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We pooled cross-sectional, individual-level data from eight studies comprising 47,045 participants to investigate the association between job strain and the following cardiovascular disease risk factors: diabetes, blood pressure, pulse pressure, lipid fractions, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, obesity, and overall cardiovascular disease risk as indexed by the Framingham Risk Score. In age-, sex-, and socioeconomic status-adjusted analyses, compared to those without job strain, people with job strain were more likely to have diabetes (odds ratio 1.29; 95% CI: 1.11–1.51), to smoke (1.14; 1.08–1.20), to be physically inactive (1.34; 1.26–1.41), and to be obese (1.12; 1.04–1.20). The association between job strain and elevated Framingham risk score (1.13; 1.03–1.25) was attributable to the higher prevalence of diabetes, smoking and physical inactivity among those reporting job strain.
In this meta-analysis of work-related stress and cardiovascular disease risk factors, job strain was linked to adverse lifestyle and diabetes. No association was observed between job strain, clinic blood pressure or blood lipids.
PMCID: PMC3688665  PMID: 23840664
2.  Is It Always Unethical to Use a Placebo in a Clinical Trial? 
PLoS Medicine  2005;2(3):e72.
Background to the debate: Placebos are used in trials to conceal whether a treatment is being given or not and hence to control for the psychosomatic effects of offering treatment. Placebo-controlled trials are controversial. Critics of such trials argue that if a proven effective therapy exists, a placebo should not be used. But proponents argue that placebo trials are still crucial to prove the efficacy and safety of many treatments.
Placebos are used in trials to conceal whether a treatment is being given or not and hence to control for the psychosomatic effects of offering treatment. Placebo-controlled trials are controversial, and our debate examines the controversies
PMCID: PMC1069666  PMID: 15783259
3.  A population-based case–control study on social factors and risk of testicular germ cell tumours 
BMJ Open  2013;3(9):e003833.
Incidence rates for testicular cancer have risen over the last few decades. Findings of an association between the risk of testicular cancer and social factors are controversial. The association of testicular cancer and different indicators of social factors were examined in this study.
Case–control study.
Population-based multicentre study in four German regions (city states Bremen and Hamburg, the Saarland region and the city of Essen).
The study included 797 control participants and 266 participants newly diagnosed with testicular cancer of which 167 cases were classified as seminoma and 99 as non-seminoma. The age of study participants ranged from 15 to 69 years.
Social position was classified by educational attainment level, posteducational training, occupational sectors according to Erikson-Goldthorpe-Portocarrero (EGP) and the socioeconomic status (SES) on the basis of the International SocioEconomic Index of occupational status (ISEI). ORs and corresponding 95% CIs (95% CIs) were calculated for the whole study sample and for seminoma and non-seminoma separately.
Testicular cancer risk was modestly increased among participants with an apprenticeship (OR=1.7 (95% CI 1.0 to 2.8)) or a university degree (OR=1.6 (95% CI 0.9 to 2.8)) relative to those whose education was limited to school. Analysis of occupational sectors revealed an excess risk for farmers and farm-related occupations. No clear trend was observed for the analyses according to the ISEI-scale.
Social factors based on occupational measures were not a risk factor for testicular cancer in this study. The elevated risk in farmers and farm-related occupations warrants further research including analysis of occupational exposures.
PMCID: PMC3780297  PMID: 24056494
4.  Cigarette smoking and lung cancer – relative risk estimates for the major histological types from a pooled analysis of case-control studies 
Lung cancer is mainly caused by smoking, but the quantitative relations between smoking and histologic subtypes of lung cancer remain inconclusive. Using one of the largest lung cancer datasets ever assembled, we explored the impact of smoking on risks of the major cell types of lung cancer. This pooled analysis included 13,169 cases and 16,010 controls from Europe and Canada. Studies with population controls comprised 66.5% of the subjects. Adenocarcinoma (AdCa) was the most prevalent subtype in never smokers and in women. Squamous cell carcinoma (SqCC) predominated in male smokers. Age-adjusted odds ratios (ORs) were estimated with logistic regression. ORs were elevated for all metrics of exposure to cigarette smoke and were higher for SqCC and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) than for AdCa. Current male smokers with an average daily dose of >30 cigarettes had ORs of 103.5 (95% CI 74.8-143.2) for SqCC, 111.3 (95% CI 69.8-177.5) for SCLC, and 21.9 (95% CI 16.6-29.0) for AdCa. In women, the corresponding ORs were 62.7 (95% CI 31.5-124.6), 108.6 (95% CI 50.7-232.8), and 16.8 (95% CI 9.2-30.6), respectively. Whereas ORs started to decline soon after quitting, they did not fully return to the baseline risk of never smokers even 35 years after cessation. The major result that smoking exerted a steeper risk gradient on SqCC and SCLC than on AdCa is in line with previous population data and biological understanding of lung cancer development.
PMCID: PMC3296911  PMID: 22052329
cigarette smoking; lung cancer; relative risk characterization; tobacco smoke; stem cells
5.  Risk loci for coronary artery calcification replicated at 9p21 and 6q24 in the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study 
BMC Medical Genetics  2013;14:23.
Atherosclerosis is the primary cause of coronary heart disease (CHD), preceding the onset of cardiovascular disease by decades in most cases. Here we examine the association between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) integrated on Metabochip and coronary artery calcification (CAC), a valid risk factor for CHD, in an unselected, population-based German cohort.
The Metabochip is a custom iSELECT array containing >195,000 SNPs that was designed to support large-scale follow-up of putative associations for metabolic and cardiovascular-associated traits. We used generalized linear regression models to explore the impact of Metabochip SNPs on quantitative CAC in 4,329 participants.
The 9p21 variant, rs1537373, was most strongly associated (Beta = 0.30; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.21-0.39; p = 4.05x10-11) with quantitative CAC. The second strongest association with CAC was with rs9349379 in the phosphatase and actin regulator 1 gene, PHACTR1, (Beta = 0.30; 95% CI = 0.22-0.40; p = 4.67x10-11). Both SNPs remained nominally significant in dichotomized analyses for the presence of any CAC (odds ratiors1537373 (OR) = 1.19; 95% CI = 1.07-1.31; p = 0.001 and ORrs9349379 = 1.26; 95% CI = 1.14-1.40); p = 1.5x10-5). Fine mapping of the 9p21 and PHACTR1 gene region revealed several other SNPs that were strongly associated with CAC.
We demonstrate that SNPs near 9p21 and in PHACTR1 that have previously been shown to be associated with CHD are strongly associated with CAC in the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study cohort. Our findings suggest that the 9p21 and 6q24 loci might be involved in cardiac outcome via promoting development of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries.
PMCID: PMC3583714  PMID: 23394302
Coronary heart disease; Coronary artery calcification; Cohort study; Polymorphism; Metabochip
6.  The mediating effect of social relationships on the association between socioeconomic status and subjective health – results from the Heinz Nixdorf Recall cohort study 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:285.
Socioeconomic status (SES) is an important determinant of population health. Explanatory approaches on how SES determines health have so far included numerous factors, amongst them psychosocial factors such as social relationships. However, it is unclear whether social relationships can help explain socioeconomic differences in general subjective health. Do different aspects of social relationships contribute differently to the explanation? Based on a cohort study of middle and older aged residents (45 to 75 years) from the Ruhr Area in Germany our study tries to clarify the matter.
For the analyses data from the population-based prospective Heinz Nixdorf Recall (HNR) Study is used. As indicators of SES education, equivalent household income and occupational status were employed. Social relations were assessed by including structural as well as functional aspects. Structural aspects were estimated by the Social Integration Index (SII) and functional aspects were measured by availability of emotional and instrumental support. Data on general subjective health status was available for both baseline examination (2000–2003) and a 5-year follow-up (2006–2008). The sample consists of 4,146 men and women. Four logistic regression models were calculated: in the first model we controlled for age and subjective health at baseline, while in models 2 and 3, either functional or structural aspects of social relationships were introduced separately. Model 4 then included all variables. As former studies indicated different health effects of SES and social relations in men and women, analyses were conducted with the overall sample as well as for each gender alone.
Prospective associations of SES and subjective health were reduced after introducing social relationships into the regression models. Percentage reductions between 2% and 30% were observed in the overall sample when all aspects of social relations were included. The percentage reductions were strongest in the lowest SES group. Gender specific analyses revealed mediating effects of social relationships in women and men. The magnitude of mediating effects varied depending on the indicators of SES and social relations.
Social relationships substantially contribute to the explanation of SES differences in subjective health. Interventions for improving social relations which especially focus on socially deprived groups are likely to help reducing socioeconomic disparities in health.
PMCID: PMC3408349  PMID: 22510464
7.  Identification of miRNA-103 in the Cellular Fraction of Human Peripheral Blood as a Potential Biomarker for Malignant Mesothelioma – A Pilot Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30221.
To date, no biomarkers with reasonable sensitivity and specificity for the early detection of malignant mesothelioma have been described. The use of microRNAs (miRNAs) as minimally-invasive biomarkers has opened new opportunities for the diagnosis of cancer, primarily because they exhibit tumor-specific expression profiles and have been commonly observed in blood of both cancer patients and healthy controls. The aim of this pilot study was to identify miRNAs in the cellular fraction of human peripheral blood as potential novel biomarkers for the detection of malignant mesothelioma.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using oligonucleotide microarrays for biomarker identification the miRNA levels in the cellular fraction of human peripheral blood of mesothelioma patients and asbestos-exposed controls were analyzed. Using a threefold expression change in combination with a significance level of p<0.05, miR-103 was identified as a potential biomarker for malignant mesothelioma. Quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) was used for validation of miR-103 in 23 malignant mesothelioma patients, 17 asbestos-exposed controls, and 25 controls from the general population. For discrimination of mesothelioma patients from asbestos-exposed controls a sensitivity of 83% and a specificity of 71% were calculated, and for discrimination of mesothelioma patients from the general population a sensitivity of 78% and a specificity of 76%.
The results of this pilot study show that miR-103 is characterized by a promising sensitivity and specificity and might be a potential minimally-invasive biomarker for the diagnosis of mesothelioma. In addition, our results support the concept of using the cellular fraction of human blood for biomarker discovery. However, for early detection of malignant mesothelioma the feasibility of miR-103 alone or in combination with other biomarkers needs to be analyzed in a prospective study.
PMCID: PMC3256226  PMID: 22253921
8.  Secondhand Smoke Exposure and Coronary Artery Calcification among Nonsmoking Participants of a Population-Based Cohort 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2011;119(11):1556-1561.
Background: Secondhand smoke (SHS) consists of fine particulate matter, carcinogens, and various toxins that affect large parts of the population. SHS increases the risk for acute cardiovascular events and may contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.
Objectives: We investigated the association of SHS with coronary artery calcification (CAC).
Methods: In this cross-sectional analysis, we used baseline data (2000–2003) from 1,766 never-smokers without clinically manifested coronary heart disease, 45–75 years of age, from the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study, an ongoing, prospective, population-based cohort study in Germany. Self-reported frequent SHS at home, at work, and in other places was assessed by questionnaire. CAC scores were derived based on electron-beam computed tomography. We conducted multiple linear regression analysis using exposure to SHS as the explanatory variable and ln(CAC+1) as the response variable. We conducted logistic regression to estimate the odds ratio (OR) for presence of any CAC.
Results: Frequent exposure to SHS was reported by 21.5% of participants. After adjustment for age, sex, and socioeconomic status, CAC + 1 was 21.1% [95% confidence interval (CI): –5.5%, 55.2%] higher in exposed than in unexposed participants. After adjusting for other cardiovascular risk factors, the association was attenuated (15.4%; 95% CI: –9.6%, 47.2%). SHS exposure was also associated with a CAC score > 0 (fully adjusted OR = 1.38; 95% CI: 1.03, 1.84).
Conclusions: Self-reported frequent exposure to SHS was associated with subclinical coronary atherosclerosis in our cross-sectional study population. Considering the widespread exposure and the clinical relevance of coronary atherosclerosis, this result, if confirmed, is of public health importance.
PMCID: PMC3226494  PMID: 21742575
cardiovascular atherosclerosis; comparative risk assessment; environmental epidemiology; population health; secondhand smoke
9.  Does socioeconomic status affect the association of social relationships and health? A moderator analysis 
Social relations have repeatedly been found to be an important determinant of health. However, it is unclear whether the association between social relations and health is consistent throughout different status groups. It is likely that health effects of social relations vary in different status groups, as stated in the hypothesis of differential vulnerability. In this analysis we explore whether socioeconomic status (SES) moderates the association between social relations and health.
In the baseline examination of the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study, conducted in a dense populated Western German region (N = 4,814, response rate 56%), SES was measured by income and education. Social relations were classified by using both structural as well as functional measures. The Social Integration Index was used as a structural measure, whilst functional aspects were assessed by emotional and instrumental support. Health was indicated by self-rated health (1 item) and a short version of the CES-D scale measuring the frequency of depressive symptoms. Based on logistic regression models we calculated the relative excess risk due to interaction (RERI) which indicates existing moderator effects.
Our findings show highest odds ratios (ORs) for both poor self-rated health and more frequent depressive symptoms when respondents have a low SES as well as inappropriate social relations. For example, respondents with low income and a low level of social integration have an OR for a high depression score of 2.85 (95% CI 2.32-4.49), compared to an OR of 1.44 (95% CI 1.12-1.86) amongst those with a low income but a high level of social integration and an OR of 1.72 (95% CI 1.45-2.03) amongst respondents with high income but a low level of social integration. As reference group those reporting high income and a high level of social integration were used.
The analyses indicate that the association of social relations and subjective health differs across SES groups as we find moderating effects of SES. However, results are inconsistent as nearly all RERI scores are positive but do not reach a significant level. Also moderating effects vary between women and men and depending on the indicators of SES and social relations used. Thus, the hypothesis of differential vulnerability can only partially be supported. In terms of practical implications, psychosocial and health interventions aiming towards the enhancement of social relations should especially consider the situation of the socially deprived.
PMCID: PMC3216239  PMID: 21995609
10.  Impact of time since last caloric intake on blood glucose levels 
European Journal of Epidemiology  2011;26(9):719-728.
Blood glucose (BG) is usually measured after a caloric restriction of at least 8 h; however evidence-based recommendations for the duration of a fasting status are missing. Here we analyze the effect of fasting duration on levels of BG to determine the minimal fasting duration to achieve comparable BG levels to conventional fasting measurements. We used data of a cross-sectional study on primary care patients, performed in October 2005. We included 28,024 individuals (age-range 18–99 years; 63% women) without known diabetes mellitus and without missing data for BG and fasting status. We computed general linear models, adjusting for age, sex, time of blood withdrawal, systolic blood pressure, waist circumference, total- and HDL-cholesterol, physical activity, smoking, intake of beta-blocker and alcohol. We tested the intra-individual variability with respect to fasting status. Overall, the mean BG differed only slightly between individuals fasting ≥8 h and those fasting <8 h (men: 5.1 ± 0.8 mmol/L versus 5.2 ± 1.2 mmol/L; women: 4.9 ± 0.7 mmol/L, 5.0 ± 1.0 mmol/L). After 3 h of fasting differences of BG diminished in men to −0.08 mmol/L (95%-CI: −0.15; −0.01 mmol/L), in women to −0.07 mmol/L (−0.12; −0.03 mmol/L) compared to individuals fasting ≥8 h. Noteworthy, age, time of day of blood withdrawal, physical activity, and intake of hard liquor influenced BG levels considerably. Our data challenge the necessity for a fasting duration of ≥8 h when measuring blood glucose, suggesting a random sampling or a fasting duration of 3 h as sufficient. Rather, our study indicates that essentially more effort on the assessment of additional external/internal factors on BG levels is necessary.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10654-011-9608-z) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3186886  PMID: 21822717
Blood glucose; Risk assessment; Nonfasting; Cross-sectional study
11.  A case-control study: occupational cooking and the risk of uveal melanoma 
BMC Ophthalmology  2010;10:26.
A European-wide population based case-control study (European rare cancer study) undertaken in nine European countries examined risk factors for uveal melanoma. They found a positive association between cooks and the risk of uveal melanoma. In our study we examine whether cooks or people who worked in cook related jobs have an increased uveal melanoma risk.
We conducted a case-control study during 2002 and 2005. Overall, 1653 eligible subjects (age range: 20-74 years, living in Germany) participated. Interviews were conducted with 459 incident uveal melanoma cases, 827 population controls, 180 ophthalmologist controls and 187 sibling controls. Data on occupational exposure were obtained from a self-administered postal questionnaire and a computer-assisted telephone interview. We used conditional logistic regression to estimate odds ratios adjusting for the matching factors.
Overall, we did not observe an increased risk of uveal melanoma among people who worked as cooks or who worked in cook related jobs. When we restricted the source population of our study to the population of the Federal State of Northrhine-Westphalia, we observed an increased risk among subjects who were categorized as cooks in the cases-control analysis.
Our results are in conflict with former results of the European rare cancer study. Considering the rarity of the disease laboratory in vitro studies of human uveal melanoma cell lines should be done to analyze potential exposure risk factors like radiation from microwaves, strong light from incandescent ovens, or infrared radiation.
PMCID: PMC2978138  PMID: 20969762
12.  Challenging the holy grail of hospital accreditation: A cross sectional study of inpatient satisfaction in the field of cardiology 
Subjective parameters such as quality of life or patient satisfaction gain importance as outcome parameters and benchmarks in health care. In many countries hospitals are now undergoing accreditation as mandatory or voluntary measures. It is believed but unproven that accreditations positively influence quality of care and patient satisfaction. The present study aims to assess in a defined specialty (cardiology) the relationship between patient satisfaction (as measured by the recommendation rate) and accreditation status.
Consecutive patients discharged from 25 cardiology units received a validated patient satisfaction questionnaire. Data from 3,037 patients (response rate > 55%) became available for analysis. Recommendation rate was used as primary endpoint. Different control variables such as staffing level were considered.
The 15 accredited units did not differ significantly from the 10 non-accredited units regarding main hospital (i.e. staffing levels, no. of beds) and patient (age, gender) characteristics. The primary endpoint "recommendation rate of a given hospital" for accredited hospitals (65.6%, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 63.4 - 67.8%) and hospitals without accreditation (65.8%, 95% CI 63.1 - 68.5%) was not significantly different.
Our results support the notion that - at least in the field of cardiology - successful accreditation is not linked with measurable better quality of care as perceived by the patient and reflected by the recommendation rate of a given institution. Hospital accreditation may represent a step towards quality management, but does not seem to improve overall patient satisfaction.
PMCID: PMC2877683  PMID: 20459873
13.  Chronic Residential Exposure to Particulate Matter Air Pollution and Systemic Inflammatory Markers 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2009;117(8):1302-1308.
Long-term exposure to urban air pollution may accelerate atherogenesis, but mechanisms are still unclear. The induction of a low-grade systemic inflammatory state is a plausible mechanistic pathway. Objectives: We analyzed the association of residential long-term exposure to particulate matter (PM) and high traffic with systemic inflammatory markers.
We used baseline data from the German Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study, a population-based, prospective cohort study of 4,814 participants that started in 2000. Fine PM [aerodynamic diameter ≤ 2.5 μm (PM2.5)] exposure based on a small-scale dispersion and chemistry transport model was assigned to each home address. We calculated distances between residences and major roads. Long-term exposure to air pollution (annual PM2.5 and distance to high traffic) and concentration of inflammatory markers [high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) and fibrinogen] on the day of the baseline visit were analyzed with sex-stratified multiple linear regression, controlling for individual-level risk factors.
In the adjusted analysis, a cross-sectional exposure difference of 3.91 μg/m3 in PM2.5 (interdecile range) was associated with increases in hs-CRP of 23.9% [95% confidence interval (CI), 4.1 to 47.4%] and fibrinogen of 3.9% (95% CI, 0.3 to 7.7%) in men, whereas we found no association in women. Chronic traffic exposure was not associated with inflammatory markers. Short-term exposures to air pollutants and temperature did not influence the results markedly.
Our study indicates that long-term residential exposure to high levels of PM2.5 is associated with systemic inflammatory markers in men. This might provide a link between air pollution and coronary atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC2721876  PMID: 19672412
air quality; cardiovascular disease; epidemiology; inflammation; roadway proximity
14.  Guideline adherence and patient satisfaction in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disorders – an evaluation study 
Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) are the most frequent inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD). IBD cause a significant burden to society due to extensive health care utilization from the first clinical symptoms until diagnosis and thereafter due to direct and indirect costs. Besides the socio-economic impact of CD and UC, gastrointestinal and extraintestinal symptoms affect quality of life, but there is remarkably little data about the quality of treatment as assessed by patient satisfaction, quality of life and adherence to guidelines. Thus the aim of this study was to identify variables that influence quality of treatment and quality of life as well as patient satisfaction.
The Essener Zirkel Study was a cross sectional study of 86 IBD-patients with a confirmed diagnosis of CD or UC. They were recruited at primary, secondary and tertiary care settings. Quality of treatment, quality of life and patient satisfaction were evaluated. Consulting behaviour and number of examinations, duration of disease and variables regarding adherence to guidelines were evaluated, too.
59 (69%) patients had CD and 27 had UC (31%). 19% spent more than four years until the suspected diagnosis of IBD was confirmed and visited more than five physicians. All patients showed a significantly reduced quality of life compared to the 1998 German normative population. In spite of being under medical treatment, nearly half of the patients suffered from strong quality of life restricting symptoms. Over all, 35% described their treatment as moderate or bad. Patients who consulted psychotherapists and non-medical practitioners suffered significantly less from depression.
Besides structural deficiencies due to the health care policy, we revealed the adherence to guidelines to be a problem area. Our findings support the assumption, that providing better health care and especially maintaining constant patient-physician communication improves patient satisfaction.
PMCID: PMC2646712  PMID: 19173739
15.  Mobile Phone Use and Risk of Uveal Melanoma: Results of the Risk Factors for Uveal Melanoma Case-Control Study 
We recently reported an increased risk of uveal melanoma among mobile phone users. Here, we present the results of a case–control study that assessed the association between mobile phone use and risk of uveal melanoma. We recruited 459 uveal melanoma case patients at the University of Duisburg-Essen and matched 455 case patients with 827 population control subjects, 133 with 180 ophthalmologist control subjects, and 187 with 187 sibling control subjects. We used a questionnaire to assess mobile phone use and estimated odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) of risk for uveal melanoma using conditional logistic regression. Risk of uveal melanoma was not associated with regular mobile phone use (OR = 0.7, 95% CI = 0.5 to 1.0 vs population control subjects; OR = 1.1, 95% CI = 0.6 to 2.3 vs ophthalmologist control subjects; and OR = 1.2, 95% CI = 0.5 to 2.6 vs sibling control subjects), and we observed no trend for cumulative measures of exposure. We did not corroborate our previous results that showed an increased risk of uveal melanoma among regular mobile phone users.
PMCID: PMC2639317  PMID: 19141780
16.  Comparison of Subclinical Coronary Atherosclerosis and Risk Factors in Unselected Populations in Germany and US-America 
Atherosclerosis  2007;195(1):e207-e216.
On the basis of the Framingham risk algorithm, overestimation of clinical events has been reported in some European populations. Electron-beam computed tomography-derived quantification of coronary artery calcification (CAC) allows for noninvasive assessment of coronary atherosclerosis in the general population and may thus add important in vivo information on the path from risk factor exposure to formation of clinical events. The current study was undertaken to compare the relationship between risk factors and subclinical coronary atherosclerosis between non-Hispanic white cohorts in Germany and US-America, the hypothesis being that subclinical coronary atherosclerosis might be less prevalent in Europe at the same level of classical risk factor exposure.
The Heinz Nixdorf Recall (HNR) study, conducted in the German Ruhr area and the Epidemiology of Coronary Calcification (ECAC) study, conducted in Olmsted County, Minnesota, both recruited large unselected cohorts, men and women aged 45 – 74 years, from the general population. All subjects with no history of coronary artery disease (CAD) or stroke were included (n = 3,120 in HNR, n = 703 in ECAC). Coronary risk factors were assessed by personal and computer-assisted interviews and direct laboratory measurements. Cardiovascular medication use (antihypertensive, lipid-lowering, and anti-diabetic) was noted. CAC scores were determined using the Agatston method in an identical fashion in both studies.
Adverse levels of risk factors were more prevalent, and the Framingham risk score was higher (10.6 ± 7.6 vs. 9.3 ± 7.1, p < 0.001) in HNR than ECAC, respectively. There was no difference in body mass index (BMI). CAC scores were greater in HNR than in ECAC (mean values, 155.7 ± 423.0 versus 107.2 ± 280.0; median values, 11.9 versus 2.4; p < 0.001, respectively). When subjects were matched on CAD risk factors, presence and quantity of CAC were similar in the 2 cohorts. Risk factors significantly associated with CAC score in both studies included: age, male sex, current and former smoking, systolic blood pressure, and non HDL-cholesterol. Inferences were similar after excluding subjects using lipid- or blood pressure-lowering medications. Using the same risk factor variables for modelling, the predicted CAC scores were comparable in both cohorts.
In the higher-risk German cohort, presence and quantity of CAC were greater than in the lower-risk US-American cohort. Risk factor associations, however, with CAC were very similar in both unselected populations. As opposed to studies concerning clinical endpoints, we could not demonstrate a relative increase in subclinical coronary atherosclerosis in the US-American cohort.
PMCID: PMC2293130  PMID: 17532322
17.  Signs of subclinical coronary atherosclerosis in relation to risk factor distribution in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study (HNR) 
European Heart Journal  2008;29(22):2782-2791.
Modern imaging technology allows us the visualization of coronary artery calcification (CAC), a marker of subclinical coronary atherosclerosis. The prevalence, quantity, and risk factors for CAC were compared between two studies with similar imaging protocols but different source populations: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study (HNR).
Methods and results
The measured CAC in 2220 MESA participants were compared with those in 3126 HNR participants with the inclusion criteria such as age 45–75 years, Caucasian race, and free of baseline cardiovascular disease. Despite similar mean levels of CAC of 244.6 among participants in MESA and of 240.3 in HNR (P = 0.91), the prevalence of CAC > 0 was lower in MESA (52.6%) compared with HNR (67.0%) with a prevalence rate ratio of CAC > 0 of 0.78 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.72–0.85] after adjustment for known risk factors. Consequently, among participants with CAC > 0, the participants in MESA tended to have higher levels of CAC than those in HNR (ratio of CAC levels: 1.39; 95% CI: 1.19–1.63), since many HNR participants have small (near zero) CAC values.
The CAC prevalence was lower in the United States (MESA) cohort than in the German (HNR) cohort, which may be explained by more favourable risk factor levels among the MESA participants. The predictors for increased levels of CAC were, however, similar in both cohorts with the exception that male gender, blood pressure, and body mass index were more strongly associated in the HNR cohort.
PMCID: PMC2582985  PMID: 18845666
Epidemiology; Atherosclerosis; Coronary artery calcium; Risk factors; Screening
18.  Impact of 4 different definitions used for the assessment of the prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome in primary healthcare:The German Metabolic and Cardiovascular Risk Project (GEMCAS) 
The metabolic syndrome (MetSyn) places individuals at increased risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Prevalence rates of the population of the MetSyn are still scarce. Moreover, the impact of different definitions of the MetSyn on the prevalence is unclear. Aim here is to assess the prevalence of the MetSyn in primary health care and to investigate the impact of four different definitions of the MetSyn on the determined prevalence with regard to age, gender and socio-economic status.
The German-wide cross-sectional study was conducted during two weeks in October 2005 in 1.511 randomly selected general practices. Blood samples were analyzed, blood pressure and waist circumference assessed, data on lifestyle, medication, chronic disorders, and socio-demographic characteristics collected. MetSyn prevalence was estimated according to the definitions of NCEP ATP III (2001), AHA/NHLBI (2004, 2005), and IDF (2005). Descriptive statistics and prevalence rate ratios using the PROG GENMOD procedure, were calculated. Cohen's kappa was used as measure for interreliability between the different prevalence estimates.
Data of 35,869 patients (age range: 18–99, women 61.1%) were included. The prevalence was lowest using the NCEP ATP III- (all: 19.8%, men 22.7%, women: 18.0%), highest according to the IDF-definition (32.7%, 40.3%, 28.0%). The increase in prevalence with recent definitions was more pronounced for men than for women, and was particularly high for men and women aged 60–79 years. The IDF-definition resulted in a higher prevalence especially in those with the highest educational status. Agreement (kappa) between the NCEP ATP III- and IDF-definition was 0.68 (men 0.61, women 0.74), between the updated the AHA/NHLBI- (2005) and IDF-definition 0.85 (men 0.79, women 0.89).
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome is associated with age, gender, and educational status and increases considerably with each newly published definition. Our data highlight the need for a better evidence regarding thresholds of the components of the metabolic syndrome, especially with regard to the IDF-definition – according to which in some populations a majority of subjects are diagnosed with the metabolic syndrome.
PMCID: PMC2031874  PMID: 17822558
19.  Assessing the prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome according to NCEP ATP III in Germany: feasibility and quality aspects of a two step approach in 1550 randomly selected primary health care practices 
Objective: Metabolic Syndrome (MetSyn) describes a cluster of metabolic disorders and is considered a risk factor for development of cardiovascular disease. Although a high prevalence is commonly assumed in Germany data about the degree of its occurrence in the population and in subgroups are still missing. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of the MetSyn according to the NCEP ATP-III (National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III) criteria in persons aged ≥18 years attending a general practitioner in Germany. Here we describe in detail the methods used and the feasibility of determining the MetSyn in a primary health care setting.
Research design and methods: The German-wide cross-sectional study was performed during two weeks in October 2005. Blood samples were analyzed in a central laboratory. Waist circumference and blood pressure were assessed, data on smoking, life style, fasting status, socio-demographic characteristics and core information from non-participants collected. Quality control procedures included telephone-monitoring and random on-site visits. In order to achieve a maximal number of fasting blood samples with a minimal need for follow-up appointments a stepwise approach was developed. Basic descriptive statistics were calculated, the Taylor expansion method used to estimate standard errors needed for calculation of confidence intervals for clustered observations.
Results: In total, 1511 randomly selected general practices from 397 out of 438 German cities and administrative districts enrolled 35,869 patients (age range: 18-99, women 61.1%). More than 50,000 blood samples were taken. Fasting blood samples were available for 49% of the participants. Of the participating patients 99.3% returned questionnaires to the GP, only 12% were not filled out completely. The overall prevalence of the MetSyn (NCEP/ATP III 2001) was found to be 19.8%, with men showing higher prevalence rates than women (22.7% respective 18.0%).
Conclusions: This study was designed to provide data as robust as possible within the confines of an epidemiological study. Judging by the low degree of missing data and the high data quality, the feasibility for this kind of a research setting (short evaluation period, practitioners as data assessment sites) was found to be very good. The results will help to gain a more comprehensive insight into the prevalence of MetSyn for patients in primary health care in Germany.
PMCID: PMC2703219  PMID: 19675698
Metabolic Syndrome X; primary health care; cross-sectional study; prevalence study; family practice; Germany
20.  An analysis of sickness absence in chronically ill patients receiving Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A longterm prospective intermittent study 
BMC Public Health  2006;6:28.
The popularity of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has led to a growing amount of research in this area. All the same little is known about the effects of these special treatments in every-day practice of primary care, delivered by general practitioners within the health insurance system. From 1994 to 2000 more than 20 German Company health insurances initiated the first model project on CAM according to the German social law. Aim of this contribution is to investigate the effectiveness of multi-modal CAM on chronic diseases within primary health care.
A long-term prospective intermittent study was conducted including 44 CAM practitioners and 1221 self-selected chronically ill patients (64% women) of whom 441 were employed. Main outcome measure is sick-leave, controlled for secular trends and regression-to-the mean and self-perceived health status.
Sick-leave per year of 441 patients at work increased from 22 (SD ± 45.2) to 31 (± 61.0) days within three years prior to intervention, and decreased to 24 (± 55.6) in the second year of treatment, sustaining at this level in the following two years. Detailed statistical analysis show that this development exceeds secular trends and the regression-toward-the-mean effect. Sick-leave reduction was corroborated by data on self-reported improvement of patients' health status.
Results of this longterm observational study show a reduction of sick leave in chronically ill patients after a complex multimodal CAM intervention. However, as this is an uncontrolled observational study efficacy of any specific CAM treatment can not be proven. The results might indicate an general effectiveness of CAM in primary care, worthwhile further investigations. Future studies should identify the most suitable patients for CAM practices, the most appropriate and safe treatments, provide information on the magnitude of the effects to facilitate subsequent definitive randomised controlled studies that will help to position complementary and alternative medicine in health care.
PMCID: PMC1397812  PMID: 16472403
21.  Two-part permutation tests for DNA methylation and microarray data 
BMC Bioinformatics  2005;6:35.
One important application of microarray experiments is to identify differentially expressed genes. Often, small and negative expression levels were clipped-off to be equal to an arbitrarily chosen cutoff value before a statistical test is carried out. Then, there are two types of data: truncated values and original observations. The truncated values are not just another point on the continuum of possible values and, therefore, it is appropriate to combine two statistical tests in a two-part model rather than using standard statistical methods. A similar situation occurs when DNA methylation data are investigated. In that case, there are null values (undetectable methylation) and observed positive values. For these data, we propose a two-part permutation test.
The proposed permutation test leads to smaller p-values in comparison to the original two-part test. We found this for both DNA methylation data and microarray data. With a simulation study we confirmed this result and could show that the two-part permutation test is, on average, more powerful. The new test also reduces, without any loss of power, to a standard test when there are no null or truncated values.
The two-part permutation test can be used in routine analyses since it reduces to a standard test when there are positive values only. Further advantages of the new test are that it opens the possibility to use other test statistics to construct the two-part test and that it avoids the use of any asymptotic distribution. The latter advantage is particularly important for the analysis of microarrays since sample sizes are usually small.
PMCID: PMC551601  PMID: 15725357
23.  Case-control study on uveal melanoma (RIFA): rational and design 
BMC Ophthalmology  2004;4:11.
Although a rare disease, uveal melanoma is the most common primary intraocular malignancy in adults, with an incidence rate of up to 1.0 per 100,000 persons per year in Europe. Only a few consistent risk factors have been identified for this disease. We present the study design of an ongoing incident case-control study on uveal melanoma (acronym: RIFA study) that focuses on radiofrequency radiation as transmitted by radio sets and wireless telephones, occupational risk factors, phenotypical characteristics, and UV radiation.
We conduct a case-control study to identify the role of different exposures in the development of uveal melanoma. The cases of uveal melanoma were identified at the Division of Ophthalmology, University of Essen, a referral centre for tumours of the eye. We recruit three control groups: population controls, controls sampled from those ophthalmologists who referred cases to the Division of Ophthalmology, University of Duisburg-Essen, and sibling controls. For each case the controls are matched on sex and age (five year groups), except for sibling controls. The data are collected from the study participants by short self-administered questionnaire and by telephone interview. During and at the end of the field phase, the data are quality-checked.
To estimate the effect of exposures on uveal melanoma risk, we will use conditional logistic regression that accounts for the matching factors and allows to control for potential confounding.
PMCID: PMC515306  PMID: 15318944
24.  Educational level, prevalence of hysterectomy, and age at amenorrhoea: a cross-sectional analysis of 9536 women from six population-based cohort studies in Germany 
BMC Women's Health  2014;14:10.
Hysterectomy prevalence has been shown to vary by education level. Hysterectomy influences age at amenorrhoea. The aim of this study was to examine these associations in Germany within population-based data sets.
Baseline assessments in six population-based cohorts took place from 1997 through 2006 and included 9,548 women aged 20–84 years. All studies assessed hysterectomy history, school and professional degrees. Degrees were categorized into three levels each. Adjusted prevalence ratios and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were estimated.
Prevalences were higher in West Germany than East Germany, increased by age, and leveled off starting at 55–64 years. The age- and study-adjusted prevalence ratio (lowest versus highest school level) was 2.61 (95% CI: 1.28-5.30), 1.48 (95% CI: 1.21-1.81), and 1.01 (95% CI: 0.80-1.28) for women aged 20–45, 45–64, and 65 and more years respectively. The estimated adjusted prevalence ratios per one unit decrement of the educational qualification score (range 1 = lowest, 8 = highest) were 1.29 (95% CI: 1.02-1.64), 1.08 (95% CI: 1.04-1.12), and 0.98 (95% CI: 0.93-1.03) for women aged 20–44, 45–64, and 65–84 years respectively. Age at amenorrhoea was on average 6.2 years lower (43.5 years versus 49.7 years) among women with a history of hysterectomy than those without.
Lower educational level was associated with a higher hysterectomy prevalence among women aged 20–64 years. Several mediators associated with educational level and hysterectomy including women’s disease risk, women’s treatment preference, and women’s access to uterus-preserving treatment may explain this association. At population level, hysterectomy decreases the age of amenorrhoea on average by 6.2 years.
PMCID: PMC3898063  PMID: 24433474
Hysterectomy; Population surveillance; Prevalence; Education; Amenorrhoea
25.  Risk for High Depressive Symptoms in Diagnosed and Previously Undetected Diabetes: 5-Year Follow-Up Results of the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56300.
The objective of this study was to determine the risk for the development of high depressive symptoms in study participants with diagnosed and previously undetected diabetes mellitus compared to those without diabetes in a prospective population-based cohort study in Germany.
We estimated the 5-year cumulative incidence of high depressive symptoms in participants without high depressive symptoms at baseline (n = 3,633, 51.4% men, mean age (SD) 59.1 (7.6) years, 7.0% diagnosed diabetes, 5.3% previously undetected diabetes) from the population-based Heinz Nixdorf Recall study. Diabetes was assessed by self-report, medication, and blood glucose. High depressive symptoms were assessed using CES-D. We calculated odds ratios and their corresponding 95% confidence interval, using multiple logistic regression analyses.
Cumulative 5-year incidences (95% CI) of high depressive symptoms in participants with diagnosed, undetected, and without diabetes were 7.1 (4.2–10.9), 4.1 (1.8–8.0), and 6.5 (5.6–7.4), respectively. The age-sex-adjusted OR for developing high depressive symptoms was 1.22 (0.74–2.03) in participants with diagnosed compared to those without diabetes, and 1.00 (0.59–1.68) after adjustment for BMI, physical activity, education, stroke, and myocardial infarction. The age-sex adjusted OR for developing high depressive symptoms in participants with previously undetected diabetes compared to those without diabetes was 0.72; 0.35–1.48; and fully adjusted 0.62; 0.30–1.30.
We found no significant associations, maybe due to low power. However, our results are in line with a recent meta-analysis suggesting that risk of developing high depressive symptoms in patients with diagnosed diabetes may be moderately higher than in those without diabetes, and that comorbidity may explain in part this association. In participants with previously undetected diabetes, this first longitudinal study indicates that the risk is not increased or may even be decreased. These results support the hypothesis that high depressive symptoms develop due to diabetes-related burden and comorbidity and not due to hyperglycemia or hyperinsulinaemia.
PMCID: PMC3575467  PMID: 23441174

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