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Nov 13, 2013

Obesity, Alone, Increases Heart Disease Risk

Study finds carrying extra weight increases risk for heart disease, regardless of other medical conditions.

In recent years, there has been much debate over “healthy fat”—the idea that for some individuals, being overweight and/or obese is relatively harmless when it comes to health. For those lucky few, their extra weight doesn’t lead to conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, which undoubtedly increase heart disease risk. But according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, carrying extra weight does increase cardiovascular risk, regardless of other medical conditions.

This study included more than 72,500 Danish citizens enrolled in the Copenhagen General Population Study, designed to investigate risk factors and prognosis of chronic diseases, including heart disease. At the start of the study, researchers collected information on body mass index (measurement of height and weight), waist circumference, and whether or not participants had metabolic syndrome—a clustering of risk factors that increase risk for heart disease. The goal of the study was to determine whether carrying extra weight increased risk for heart disease and heart attack, regardless of metabolic syndrome.

After following participants for roughly three-and-a-half years, investigators found that being overweight and/or obese do in fact increase cardiovascular risk, even in adults without metabolic syndrome. Among subjects without metabolic syndrome, those who were overweight or obese had 26–88% greater risk of having a heart attack compared to those who were a normal weight. And not surprisingly, the higher one’s weight, the greater one’s risk for heart attack.

Most importantly, researchers believe these findings suggest that being overweight and/or obese are far from harmless. Even if a patient has no other cardiovascular risk factors like increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol levels, simply carrying extra weight puts them at increased risk for heart attack and heart disease. In other words, there’s no such thing as “healthy fat.”

Consequently, authors stress the importance of weight loss for the prevention of heart disease. They believe that overweight and obesity are just as useful as metabolic syndrome when it comes to identifying patients at high risk for heart disease, and encouraging weight loss is a must. Weight loss helps reduce cardiovascular risk in patients with and without metabolic syndrome and remains one of the most important ways to help prevent heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is metabolic syndrome?
  • Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that can greatly increase risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These risk factors include a large waistline, high triglyceride level, a low HDL or “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Individuals with three or more of these risk factors are considered to have metabolic syndrome, and the more risk factors one has, the greater their risk for heart disease and diabetes.
  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.

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