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Aug 17, 2017

Weight Gain in Middle Age Contributes to Increased Risk for Heart Failure

Gaining just 5% of body weight can affect heart structure and function.

Gaining just 5% of body weight increases risk for heart failure, based on a study that links weight gain during middle age to worsening heart function.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study used MRI scans to explore the impact of weight gain on heart structure and function. It included 1,262 healthy adults participating in the Dallas Heart Study, which looks at racial disparities related to heart disease.

As part of the study, participants underwent MRI scans at the start of the study and seven years later to track changes in heart structure and function. They also had brief medical exams to track changes in weight and waist circumference over the study period.

The average age of participants was 44. 44% were black and 36% were obese at the start of the study.

During the seven-year period, 41% of participants gained at least 5% of their body weight and 15% lost at least 5% of their body weight. After analysis, researchers found that greater weight gain was associated with worsening heart structure and function. For example, participants gaining at least 5% of their body weight had significantly thicker heart muscle than those who maintained or lost weight. Authors explain that over time, these changes in heart structure and function can lead to heart failure, which occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

According to authors, this is one of the first studies to demonstrate the impact of weight gain on heart function and risk for heart failure. It’s well established that overweight and obesity are major risk factors for heart failure. However, recent findings show that even minor weight gain in middle age can take a toll on heart function, potentially increasing risk for heart failure.

Findings highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, particularly in middle age. Weight can slowly creep up over the years, especially with many adults spending much of their time sedentary. Risk for heart failure also increases with age, making a healthy weight and lifestyle critical as we get older.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is heart failure?

  • Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Although there is no cure for heart failure, treatments such as ACE inhibitors and ARBs can help improve outcomes as well as quality of life.
  • 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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