Gaining 15 pounds or more over several years is the major contributor to progression of risk factors for heart disease and development of metabolic syndrome, while maintaining a stable weight -- even in individuals considered obese – significantly reduces those risks, according to a study led by a Northwestern University researcher.
Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., assistant professor of preventive medicine and of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, presented findings of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study at a recent American Heart Association Scientific Session.
The CARDIA study, which is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, followed over a 15-year period almost 2,500 men and women who were aged 18 to 30 at the beginning of the study.
More 80 percent of the participants gained 15 pounds or more over the study period. Nearly one in five in the "gain" group developed metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that indicate increased risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Less than 4 percent in the stable weight group had metabolic syndrome at the end of 15 years.
Metabolic syndrome is characterized by unhealthy traits such as excessive belly fat, high cholesterol and other blood-fat disorders, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance or diabetes, and either a high normal blood pressure or hypertension.
The syndrome has been linked to obesity, physical inactivity, and genetic factors – and now weight gain. A recent study found that people with at least three factors for metabolic syndrome had a 65 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease death compared to people who did not have metabolic syndrome, diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
"Weight gain is a nearly universal phenomenon in our society today. Greater public health efforts should be aimed at weight stabilization over the long term," Lloyd-Jones said.
"The best defense is decreasing the amount they eat and increasing their physical activity," he said.