Excess fat tissue produces compounds that promote heart attacks - regardless of blood cholesterol levels and even smoking status, say medical researchers at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.
In this new study, more than 111,000 people who had experienced heart attacks were grouped according to their body mass index, or BMI, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Other risk factors for heart disease, such as blood levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and smoking, were also recorded.
Researchers found that the heavier the person, the younger the age of a first heart attack.
Obesity and smoking also shortened life expectancy. People with the highest body weights lost an average of 12 years of life before their first heart attack.
Smoking was the second most life-shortening risk factor as those who smoked lost just under ten years of life.
Everyone in the study - regardless of body size - had about the same level of "bad" LDL cholesterol, leading researchers to believe the excess fat is causing heart disease in other ways unrelated to blood cholesterol levels.
According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, 23 per cent of Canadians aged 18 and older are obese.
As previous research has indicated, people could significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by losing weight and body fat.
This study, which is the first to say that body fat is worse than smoking, appears in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
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