How Obesity Alone is a Risk Factor for Heart Disease

obesity risk factorsObesity is a known risk factor for heart disease. One reason for this is that many people who are obese also exhibit other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But even after accounting for risk factors for heart disease that are often associated with obesity, something doesn’t quite add up. It turns out that severe obesity is its own independent risk factor for heart failure.

This is according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association that sought to investigate more exactly the role of severe obesity in the development of heart conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure. The researchers examined over 13,000 patients and measured variables like body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and diabetes. At the beginning of the study, the participants had an average age of 54 years, BMIs between 18 and 50, and no heart disease. Severe obesity was defined as a BMI over 35.

The patients were followed for 23 years. When the researchers controlled for the risk factors of heart disease—diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels—the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke were not increased in severely obese participants. However, the obese participants were twice as likely to develop heart failure, even after controlling for heart disease risk factors. The problem was greater in severely obese individuals, who had a 30% higher risk of developing heart failure for every five unit increase in body mass index. One reason may be the extra weight forces the heart to work harder to pump blood around the body.

For clinicians, this means that treating the risk factors associated with heart disease may be enough to prevent coronary heart disease and stroke, but not enough to combat heart failure. In order to successfully treat heart failure, obesity must be treated. Clinicians should follow obese patients closely for signs of heart failure.

To most effectively protect your heart, weight loss is key. The basics of weight loss are simple: eat less and exercise more. This is easier said than done, but here are some tips to get you started:

  • Eat a diet low in saturated fats and high in whole grains, fiber, and plant-based proteins to help cut cravings and keep you feeling fuller for longer
  • Begin to exercise regularly by starting slowly to build up your body’s ability to tolerate physical activity
  • Participate in a weight loss program
  • Join a gym with a variety of exercise classes

Consult your doctor, cardiologist or nutritionist about the best way to get started with a program that is right for you and your medical condition.

Next Steps

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