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Contrary to earlier reports that overweight and obesity do not necessarily lead to heart disease, a new study shows that an increase in body mass index with or without metabolic abnormalities may increase one’s risk for heart attack.
A new study reveals that being overweight or obese increases one’s risk for heart disease and heart attack, regardless of other cardiovascular risk factors associated with a condition called metabolic syndrome.
These findings challenge previous studies, which suggest that the risk for heart attack increases only if one has metabolic syndrome, regardless of overweight.

Does the amount of body fat increase one’s risk for heart disease and heart attack?

Adiposity or body fat is usually measured in terms of body mass index (BMI), which is expressed in weight with reference to one’s height.

An increase in BMI from normal (18.5–24.9) could mean that one is overweight (25–29.9) or obese (greater than 30).

Researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen, in the Netherlands reported in 2010, that certain obese people are not at high risk for heart disease or diabetes. Their study found that in more than 1,300 obese patients in their study, about seven percent were “metabolically healthy,” which meant that these individuals did not have any history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, or dyslipidemia (high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels). Among this group of patients, only one eventually developed heart disease after more than seven years of follow-up. Statistical analysis showed that this low percentage was not significant, or that it was similar to the incidence of heart disease among people of normal weight or overweight.

Another review of 97 studies involving close to three million peoplearound the world also questioned whether being overweight alone is a risk factor for premature death. 

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that overweight individuals may have a lower risk of dying than people who are of ideal weight or severely obese.

BMI and Metabolic Syndrome

Authors of the 2010 study warned that only a small subset of the obese participants in their research was obese but healthy, and that they were still at risk for other obesity-related conditions, such as arthritis.

Obesity is a chronic disease that plagues about 78 million Americans today, who spend about $150 billion annually on obesity-related complications. Many overweight and obese individuals also have other conditions that increase their risk for heart disease and heart attack, including high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, excess belly fat, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. 

These are the components of a clinical entity called metabolic syndrome. However, not all obese people have metabolic syndrome; on the other hand, even normal weight individuals can have metabolic syndrome.

In fact, researchers from the Copenhagen University Hospital and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark who examined more than 70,000 people over a few years, recently found that metabolic syndrome was present in only 62% of the obese participants, in 40% of the overweight and in 10% of normal-weight subjects.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Ostrow, N. Obesity Without Other Risks May Lead to Heart Attack. Business Week.
  • Thomsen M, Nordestgaard B. Myocardial Infarction and Ischemic Heart Disease in Overweight and Obesity With and Without Metabolic Syndrome. JAMA Intern Med.
  • The Endocrine Society (2010, June 21). Certain obese people are not at high risk of heart disease, diabetes, study finds. ScienceDaily.
  • Hinnouho GM, Czernichow S, Dugravot A, et al. Metabolically healthy obesity and risk of mortality. Does the definition of metabolic health matter? Diabetes Care. 2013.
  • Photo courtesy of mahalie stackpole by Flickr :
  • Photo courtesy of Tony Alter by Flickr :

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