Long-time obesity increases heart disease risk

accreditation
iStock

There's more bad news for overweight Americans: A 30-year study finds the risk for heart disease rises the longer someone is obese.

"Each year of obesity was associated with about a 2 to 4% higher risk of subclinical coronary heart disease," said study lead author Jared Reis, an epidemiologist with the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

"Subclinical" heart disease means damage to arteries that shows up in markers such as calcium buildup on arterial walls, but has not yet developed into symptomatic illness.

"Those with longest duration of both overall obesity and abdominal obesity tended to have the highest risk" for subclinical disease, Reis said.

The report was published in the July 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Obese for years

In the new study, Reis' team used scans to track calcium build-up in the heart arteries in almost 3 300 adults 18 to 30 years old. When the study began in the mid-1980s, none of the participants were obese.

During the course of the study, however, more than 40% became obese and 41% developed abdominal obesity (excess belly fat). Those who became obese tended to stay obese for years, the researchers noted.

The investigators found that 27.5% of these long-term obese participants showed signs of heart disease, and the problem got worse the longer the individual had been obese.

More than 38% of those with more than 20 years spent obese had calcified arteries compared with only about a quarter of those who never put on that level of excess weight, the findings showed.

Among those with overall obesity, 6.5% had more dangerous "extensive" arterial calcification, as did 9% of those with obesity centered around the belly area. In contrast, only about 5% of those who were not obese had this extensive calcification, the researchers found.

Dire consequences 

Reis said the findings could have dire implications as Americans age.

"With the increased prevalence of obesity over the last 30 years, younger individuals are becoming more obese at a younger age than in previous generations," he noted. "This longer duration of obesity may have important implications on the future burden of subclinical heart disease and potentially rates of clinical heart disease in the United States."

Another heart expert agreed.

"Obesity rates in adults and children have increased markedly in the United States over the last 25 years," said Dr Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. "This is particularly concerning as obesity is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, premature cardiovascular disease, and mortality."

Dr David Katz, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, said he also worries about rising obesity rates among the young.

"I have long feared that in an age of increasingly prevalent type 2 diabetes among children, the day may dawn when angina is an adolescent rite of passage alongside acne," Katz said.

This new study compounds that worry, he said. "It demonstrates just what common sense would suggest: That the longer the exposure to the adverse effects of obesity, the greater the harm to the coronary arteries."

According to Katz, "this study is yet another reason – as if we needed one – to devote all possible effort to the prevention, control and reversal of rampant obesity in childhood."

More information

For more information on obesity, visit the US National Library of Medicine.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
6% - 330 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
82% - 4218 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
12% - 604 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
18.09
-0.8%
Rand - Pound
20.21
-0.2%
Rand - Euro
17.74
-0.1%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.59
-0.3%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.1%
Gold
1,660.90
0.0%
Silver
19.03
0.0%
Palladium
2,166.50
0.0%
Platinum
864.50
0.0%
Brent Crude
85.14
-2.4%
Top 40
57,390
+0.8%
All Share
63,726
+0.7%
Resource 10
60,230
+0.7%
Industrial 25
77,400
+0.8%
Financial 15
13,796
+0.7%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE