We all know that America is in the throes of an obesity epidemic. Based on a study conducted in 2011-2012, it was estimated that 35 percent of the United States population was obese. Childhood obesity is on the rise and type II diabetes (almost always associated with obesity) is now seen in significant numbers, including in significant numbers of first-time adolescents.
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Link to heart disease
There is no doubt that obesity is strongly correlated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and is considered one of the major risk factors for coronary artery disease, peripheral heart disease and stroke.
However, we also hear voices telling us that the relationship between obesity and heart risk is not yet a settled question. The question is whether obesity itself carries the additional risk, or whether the additional risk is related to all the other risk factors associated with being overweight.
It is very difficult to be obese without also having one or more of the following risk factors that go hand in hand with being overweight:
Clinical scientists have spent years trying to figure out how much of the additional risk seen in obesity is due to the obesity itself, and how much is due to these other risk factors that are almost always present in overweight people. When you hear about “controversy” among scientists about whether obesity is really risky for the heart, that’s what they’re arguing about.
This question is still uncertain, but the evidence to date indicates that obesity itself carries some of the additional risks, while all the other risk factors intrinsically related to obesity account for the rest.
What should you do to reduce your risk?
If you are obese, your risk of heart disease is significantly increased. How much of your increased risk is actually caused by the increased fat itself, and how much is caused by the various secondary metabolic abnormalities that obesity brings is almost irrelevant to you personally.
The fact is that your heart risk tends to increase in proportion to the amount of excess weight you carry. And it’s hard if not impossible to really get rid of those risk factors without losing weight.
Let the scientists argue about how much of the extra risk associated with obesity is caused by obesity. Their arguments will make little or no difference to you.
Here are three things about obesity and heart risk that aren’t controversial, and can help you think about what to do next.
Obesity is one of many critical cardiac risk factors, but it is only one. Whether you’re overweight or not, you should make a formal assessment of your overall heart risk. If you are obese, chances are that several other risk factors are also unfavorable and your overall cardiovascular risk is significantly increased. So it is very important that you get all your risk factors under control. While there are medical therapies that can address most of the cardiac risk factors associated with obesity (such as medications for diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol), losing weight will tend to move all of your associated risk factors in the right direction. Losing weight can therefore be the key to a longer and healthier life.