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Richard Peto

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which includes heart attack and stroke, is the leading cause of death in the world today. In recent decades, there have been many advancements to better understand and address the disease, particularly seminal research by Sir Richard Peto, one of the world’s foremost epidemiologists. For his efforts to save countless lives worldwide by uncovering the root causes of CVD and cancer and bringing data to bear on public policies, Peto today received the 2016 CDC Foundation Hero Award. The award presentation followed Peto’s keynote at the “Halving Global Cardiovascular Disease Mortality Rates” symposium at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Peto is professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford and co-director of the university’s Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1989 for introducing meta-analyses of randomized trials, was knighted by the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth in 1999 for services to epidemiology, and received in 2010 and 2011 the Cancer Research UK and the BMJ [formerly the British Medical Journal] Lifetime Achievement Awards.

“We are honored to recognize Sir Richard Peto for his forward-thinking work that revolutionized research and policies on cardiovascular disease and cancer,” said Judith A. Monroe, M.D., president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “It’s notable that we presented the award to him at this CDC symposium, which highlights the growing global burden of cardiovascular disease worldwide and the powerful evidence generated from population-level surveys and studies. Sir Richard’s tireless advocacy to ensure these large-scale studies continue for years to come—generating data that will shape global policy on CVD—will no doubt save even more lives and improve economies around the world. ”

CVD causes an estimated 17.5 million deaths per year. Eighty percent of CVD deaths are the result of heart attacks and strokes, with over three-quarters occurring in low-and middle-income countries. A significant number of those at highest risk for CVD events are without access to medications that could have immediate benefits. In addition, CVD places a significant economic and social burden on low-and middle-income countries. If current trends continue, related costs over the next decade could be as high as $3.6 trillion annually.

Peto’s legacy in combatting CVD and cancer is long and varied. He was the first known expert to describe clearly the future worldwide health effects of current smoking patterns. Peto’s Paradox, which he formulated in 1977, transformed cancer research with its observation that at the species level, the incidence of cancer does not appear to correlate with the number of cells in an organism.

Peto has helped alter the public policy and popular attitudes in many countries towards the hazards of smoking and the large benefits of stopping. He was co-author with the late Professor Sir Richard Doll of a series of reports on tobacco use and cancer, a 50-year prospective study of mortality in relation to smoking among British doctors and an influential 1981 report quantifying the avoidable causes of cancer in the United States. This U.S. report firmly established that smoking caused far more cancer deaths than all other reliably known causes combined.

First presented in 2005, the CDC Foundation Hero Award recognizes an individual's significant contribution to improving the public’s health through exemplary work in advancing CDC’s mission of protecting the health, safety and security of America and the world. Previous honorees include:

  • Jimmy Carter, president of the United States and co-founder of The Carter Center
  • Barbara Barlow, M.D., founder and executive director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids
  • Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., co-founder and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • William Foege, M.D., M.P.H., senior fellow of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and former CDC director
  • Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of Partners In Health
  • Sir Michael Marmot, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., Ph.D., F.R.C.P., F.F.P.H.M., FMedSci, director of the University College London International Institute for Society and Health and MRC Research Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health
  • Raymond J. Baxter, Ph.D., senior vice president for community benefit for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
  • The Honorable Rudy Giuliani, 107th Mayor of New York City

About the CDC Foundation

The CDC Foundation advances the mission of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through philanthropy and public-private partnerships that protect the health, safety and security of America and the world. Established by Congress more than two decades ago, the CDC Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization that has launched 800 programs and raised more than $620 million through partnerships with philanthropies, corporations, organizations and individuals. The CDC Foundation currently manages nearly 300 CDC-led programs in the United States and in 75 countries. For more information, please visit