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The cumulative effect of core lifestyle behaviours on the prevalence of hypertension and dyslipidemia.BACKGROUND: Most cardiovascular disease (CVD) occurs in the presence of traditional risk factors, including hypertension and dyslipidemia, and these in turn are influenced by behavioural factors such as diet and lifestyle. Previous research has identified a group at low risk of CVD based on a cluster of inter-related factors: body mass index (BMI) < 25 Kg/m2, moderate exercise, alcohol intake, non-smoking and a favourable dietary pattern. The objective of this study was to determine whether these factors are associated with a reduced prevalence of hypertension and dyslipidemia in an Irish adult population. METHODS: The study was a cross-sectional survey of 1018 men and women sampled from 17 general practices. Participants completed health, lifestyle and food frequency questionnaires and provided fasting blood samples for analysis of glucose and insulin. We defined a low risk group based on the following protective factors: BMI <25 kg/m2; waist-hip ratio (WHR) <0.85 for women and <0.90 for men; never smoking status; participants with medium to high levels of physical activity; light alcohol consumption (3.5-7 units of alcohol/week) and a "prudent" diet. Dietary patterns were assessed by cluster analysis. RESULTS: We found strong significant inverse associations between the number of protective factors and systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure and dyslipidemia. The prevalence odds ratio of hypertension in persons with 1, 2, 3, > or = 4 protective factors relative to those with none, were 1.0, 0.76, 0.68 and 0.34 (trend p < 0.01). The prevalence odds ratio of dyslipidemia in persons with 1, 2, 3, > or = 4 protective factors relative to those with none were 0.83, 0.98, 0.49 and 0.24 (trend p = 0.001). CONCLUSION: Our findings of a strong inverse association between low risk behaviours and two of the traditional risk factors for CVD highlight the importance of 'the causes of the causes' and the potential for behaviour modification in CVD prevention at a population level.