Obese people have shorter lives and even those who are just overweight spend more years living with heart disease than individuals who are a healthy weight, a U.S. study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago finds.
Researchers examined data on more than 190,000 adults from 10 different studies conducted in the U.S. over the past seven decades that looked at weight and other factors that can influence the risk of heart disease. None of the participants had cardiovascular disease when they joined these studies, but at least 70 percent of men and about 60 percent of women aged 40 and older were overweight or obese.
For middle-aged men 40 to 59 years old, the odds of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure or death from cardiovascular causes was 21 percent higher for overweight individuals than for those at a normal weight. Overweight middle-aged women had 32 percent higher risk of having a heart condition or dying from it.
When middle-aged people were obese, men were 67 percent more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or cardiovascular death and women had 85 percent higher odds compared to normal-weight peers.
Extremely obese middle-aged men had almost triple the risk of having a heart condition or dying from it, compared with normal-weight men, and extremely obese middle-aged women had more than twice the risk of normal-weight women.
Obesity, overweight linked to a shorter life
The data clearly show that obesity is associated with a shorter life with more cardiovascular disease and more years lived with cardiovascular disease.
Obesity or excess fat in the body increases the risk for heart disease in and of itself and increases the risk for heart disease by causing high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol.
Some previous research has suggested that overweight people may live longer than their normal-weight counterparts, a phenomenon described as the “obesity paradox.” Much of this research didn’t account for how early in life people develop ill health, however, and the current study offers fresh evidence linking excess weight to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and of dying from it.
While overweight men had a similar lifespan to normal-weight men, obese men lived 1.9 fewer years, and extremely obese men died six years sooner.
Middle-aged women who were a normal weight lived 1.4 years longer than overweight women, 3.4 years longer than obese women and six years longer than extremely obese women.
The study wasn’t a randomized controlled trial designed to prove whether or how obesity impacts the chance of developing cardiovascular disease or dying from it. Instead it associated being overweight or obese with earlier death.
Another limitation is that researchers only had data on weight when people joined the studies, but not on any weight fluctuations over time. The study also assessed obesity using body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height that doesn’t take into account how much lean muscle versus fat people have.
A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a healthy weight, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, 30 or above is obese and 40 or higher is what’s known as morbidly or extremely obese.
Even so, the results from this new study suggest there are no health benefits to a higher BMI. The risk was highest in obese patients, but even overweight patients had increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
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