Is long-term obesity putting your heart at risk?
With obesity rates rapidly increasing over the past few decades, health problems such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are becoming common at a younger age. A 30-year study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that young adults who are obese for two decades or more have an increased risk for heart disease in middle age. This news is particularly concerning with childhood obesity rates at an all-time high, affecting 17 percent of children and teenagers, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
“We will see a lot more heart disease in the future because there is such a high rate of childhood obesity and an inadequate knowledge about healthy eating habits and exercise,” says Dr. Savitha Susarla, family practice physician at Advocate Sherman Hospital, Elgin, Ill. “Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, which can in turn lead to a higher risk for heart disease.”
This study, which observed nearly 3,300 adults ages 18-30, found that 38 percent of the long-term obese participants had calcium buildup in their coronary arteries—an early sign of heart disease. In comparison, only about a quarter of non-obese participants had calcified arteries. According to the study, there is a 2-4 percent higher risk of damage to the coronary arteries with each year of obesity.
Abdominal obesity was determined to be a major factor for the development of calcium build-up in the coronary arteries. According to Dr. Raminder Singh, Cardiologist at Advocate Sherman, many factors can lead to hardening of the arteries, particularly abdominal obesity.
Excess body fat around the waist is one of the components of metabolic syndrome—a pre-cursor to diabetes, heart disease and other health conditions. The other components to metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol composition.
“More than one-third of Americans suffer from metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Singh says. “This condition is very dangerous for our vascular system. Fat cells are resistant to insulin, therefore, the body has to produce more insulin to handle the blood sugar load. An increased insulin level, among other factors, contributes to the formation of plaques in the arteries.”
The implications of obesity on our society are serious, from rising health care costs to young people increasingly being diagnosed with chronic conditions. That’s why it’s more important than ever to teach children healthy eating habits and encourage physical activity.
“As cardiologists, we often correct heart problems after they occur through treatment such as surgery and catheter-based interventions, which are complex and expensive procedures,” Dr. Singh says. “This study is a great opportunity to take action against obesity now to prevent diabetes and heart disease from impacting a person’s quality of life in the future.”
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