Even in early adulthood, being overweight is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart muscle damage that may set the stage for cardiovascular diseases later in life, a UK study from the University of Bristol suggests.
Most previous research on the relationship between body mass index (BMI) - a measure of weight adjusted for height - and cardiovascular events like heart attacks has focused on older adults.
For this study, researchers looked the relationship between BMI and blood pressure and heart rate in more than 3000 17-year-olds born in the 1990s. They also examined cardiovascular scans from 400 21-year-olds who were at higher genetic risk for an unhealthy BMI.
The results suggested that having a higher BMI likely causes higher blood pressure. As well, a higher BMI was linked with enlargement of the left ventricle in the heart, the ventricle which pumps blood around the body.
The findings suggest that a high BMI is likely to have an adverse impact on heart structure even in young adults.
A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, 30 or above is obese and 40 or higher is morbidly or extremely obese. (My BMI calculator)
In the current study, the 17-year-olds with weight data available had an average BMI of about 23, in the healthy range, and average blood pressure readings of about 119 mmHG over 64 mmHG, also within a healthy range.
The American Heart Association defines hypertension, or high blood pressure, as a systolic reading of 130 mmHg or higher and diastolic readings of 80 mmHg or higher. Systolic pressure reflects the pressure blood exerts against artery walls when the heart beats. Diastolic pressure indicates the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
The study wasn’t a true controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how excess weight might directly cause heart problems.
Still, the results suggest that heavier young adults had hearts that pumped a greater volume of blood each minute, which over time can lead to high blood pressure and thickening of the heart muscle.
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