Being overweight or obese associated with increased risk of heart attack/heart disease

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Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess abdominal fat and abnormal cholesterol levels, is known to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It has long been thought that without this cluster of conditions, even if a person was overweight or not massively obese, they were not at increased risk of heart disease or heart attack. However, a new study published in JAMA has found that there may be an association between being overweight or obese and risk of heart attack/heart disease regardless of the presence of metabolic syndrome.

Researchers from Herlev Hospital at Copenhagen University Hospital, led by Drs. Borge G. Nordestgaard and Mette Thomsen, used data from almost 72,000 individuals in a general population study. During a four-year follow-up period, during which the tabulated all coronary events, they concluded that being overweight was associated with a 38 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 25 percent increased risk of ischemic (caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries) heart disease (IHD) compared to normal weight individuals. They found that being obese was associated with double the risk of heart attack and a 64 percent increased risk of IHD as compared to those of a normal weight. These numbers were statistically significant regardless of whether or not the person had metabolic disease; in other words, the presence or absence of metabolic syndrome played no role in the effects of overweight or obesity on heart risk, according to this study.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Chandra L. Jackson and Meir J. Stampfer of the Harvard School of Public Health commented: The findings of Thomsen and Nordestgaard add important new evidence to counter the common belief in the scientific and lay communities that the adverse health effects of overweight are generally inconsequential as long as the individual is metabolically healthy ¦These results also underscore the importance of focusing on weight gain prevention due to the difficulty in achieving and maintaining weight loss to reverse being overweight or obese.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava adds, The results of this study will seem counterintuitive to some, since the importance of the metabolic syndrome has often been emphasized. However we can see that simply treating the various aspects of the syndrome, while important, will not override the effects of coincident obesity on the risks of heart disease.