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Obesity and Heart Disease

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Obesity is a major public health problem. Obesity and overweight epidemic worldwide is also closely linked to the rise in the incidence of cardiovascular disorders.

Cardiovascular disorders are one of the largest health problems in almost all of the developed and developing nations of the world. Cardiovascular disease kills more people than any other disease and account for the largest share in health expenditure.

Risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease

Some of the major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease include:-

  • tobacco smoking
  • being physically inactive
  • eating a diet high in saturated fats and low in unsaturated fats
  • being overweight or obese
  • having high blood cholesterol
  • having a high blood pressure
  • advancing age
  • type 2 diabetes related complications of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and high cholesterol

Overlap with obesity risk factors

Many of these risk factors overlap considerably with those for obesity and overweight linking the two conditions.

Obesity and atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is the process that gradually hardens the walls of the arteries making them lose their elasticity and finally blocks them up or narrows them down to impair blood flow. The blockage is caused by fatty and fibre-like deposits.

Atherosclerosis is the main underlying cause of cardiovascular disease. When it affects the heart, it may lead to coronary artery disease and heart attacks. When this affects the brain it causes strokes and when it affects the peripheral blood vessels, it leads to peripheral artery disease.

A high body mass index is inexorably related to atherosclerosis. The association of atherosclerosis is strong with rising waist circumference, waist hip ratio and abdominal subcutaneous fat deposition as well. The correlation is made with carotid artery intimal–medial thickness (IMT) that is a marker for atherosclerosis.

Furthermore the association between excess body weight and atherosclerosis may be stronger in men than in women who have not yet achieved menopause.

Obesity and high blood pressure

Obesity has a direct correlation with blood pressure. In the three US National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), high blood pressure was found to be associated with higher BMI.

Higher BMI is found to be responsible for around 30% of the prevalence of high blood pressure. In addition obese children are 2.4 times more likely to have a high diastolic blood pressure compared with non-overweight children.

Obesity and location of body fat

Studies have shown that abdominal obesity or deposition of fat is associated with a high risk of complications of obesity on the heart like high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke.

Obesity raises both total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and reduces HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

Obesity and high blood cholesterol

Studies have shown a direct correlation between high blood cholesterol and obesity. High blood cholesterol directly raises the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity and is also associated with increased risk of heart disease. Studies show a strong association between excess body weight, particularly in the abdominal region, and Type 2 diabetes.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 8, 2013

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