OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether statins reduce all cause mortality and major coronary and cerebrovascular events in people without established cardiovascular disease but with cardiovascular risk factors, and whether these effects are similar in men and women, in young and older (>65 years) people, and in people with diabetes mellitus. DESIGN: Meta-analysis of randomised trials. DATA SOURCES: Cochrane controlled trials register, Embase, and Medline. Data abstraction Two independent investigators identified studies on the clinical effects of statins compared with a placebo or control group and with follow-up of at least one year, at least 80% or more participants without established cardiovascular disease, and outcome data on mortality and major cardiovascular disease events. Heterogeneity was assessed using the Q and I(2) statistics. Publication bias was assessed by visual examination of funnel plots and the Egger regression test. RESULTS: 10 trials enrolled a total of 70 388 people, of whom 23 681 (34%) were women and 16 078 (23%) had diabetes mellitus. Mean follow-up was 4.1 years. Treatment with statins significantly reduced the risk of all cause mortality (odds ratio 0.88, 95% confidence interval 0.81 to 0.96), major coronary events (0.70, 0.61 to 0.81), and major cerebrovascular events (0.81, 0.71 to 0.93). No evidence of an increased risk of cancer was observed. There was no significant heterogeneity of the treatment effect in clinical subgroups. CONCLUSION: In patients without established cardiovascular disease but with cardiovascular risk factors, statin use was associated with significantly improved survival and large reductions in the risk of major cardiovascular events.