The Heart’s Number One Enemy: Obesity

SYoung Health Guide
  • Obesity is a major risk factor for numerous diseases including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. More importantly, obesity is closely related to multiple health conditions that underlie cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure and abnormal blood cholesterol.


    Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, and is calculated from a person's weight and height. BMI provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. In a recent study released by the CDC, during the period between 1985 and 2009 only the state of Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity of less than 20%. It is fairly clear that the U.S. is suffering an epidemic of obesity.

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    Scientists have long suspected that excess weight, especially around the waist, has a directly negative affect on heart structure and function, even in the absence of other heart disease risks. To test their theory, the researchers evaluated 950 older individuals of varying weights for signs of left ventricular (LV) diastolic dysfunction - a condition that is characterized by changes to the structure of the heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle), which prevent it from filling sufficiently between beats. Although LV diastolic dysfunction can often be symptomless, it helps predict future heart failure.


    Each of the test participants was subjected to a non-invasive echocardiogram exam (just like the one I had last week) to measure the dimensions of the heart, muscle thickness, and filling capacity of the left ventricle. The researchers found that the overweight and obese participants were more prone to abnormal diastolic function than the normal weight individuals. These individuals were also more likely to have other cardiovascular risks such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and a larger heart mass.


    This study highlighted the direct effect that excess weight can have on heart function and stresses the need for more individual weight control to protect heart health.


    So what can one do to protect the heart? Proper diet and regular exercise are essential components of fighting weight gain and strengthening heart muscle. Losing 5%-10% of body weight will not only help produce lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and improved cholesterol levels, but can also help people with asthma suffer fewer attacks and use less medicine.


    Heart failure affects about 5.7 million people in the U.S. and causes 300,000 deaths each year. While diet and exercise is a great way to preserve heart health and in fighting heart disease, if you suspect that you are at risk of heart disease see your doctor and become better educated about your cholesterol levels and ways to combat this disease.

Published On: March 29, 2011