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Number of Years Spent Being Overweight Linked to Increased Heart Damage Risk

A recent study suggests that the number of years a person is overweight or obese, not just obesity itself, may be a risk factor for heart damage.


Participants in the study included 9,062 people who took part in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Fifty-eight percent of the participants were women and 21% were African-American. All of the participants were recruited between 1987 and 1989 and were seen four times through 1998 in order to measure body mass index, history of heart disease, and levels of high sensitivity troponin in the blood. Troponin is a chemical marker of “silent” heart damage. Participants also self reported their weight at age 25.


The researchers noted that almost 23% of the participants had an increase in BMI from the first visit to the fourth visit. The researchers found that 3,748 of the participants were overweight (BMI > 25 kg/m2) and 3,184 were obese (BMI > 30 kg/m2) at the fourth visit. Five percent of the participants had a decreased BMI and 72% had the same BMI.


The researchers also noted that nearly 7% of participants had an increase of troponin to 14 nanograms per liter or more by the fourth visit. Levels above 14 nanograms per meter are considered signs of heart damage. Participants who increased in BMI to overweight or obese by the fourth visit were 1.5 times more likely to have dangerous troponin levels.


When the researchers examined BMI at the beginning and end of the study, they found that people who were obese at both the first and fourth visits were twice as likely as those with consistently normal weights to have dangerous levels of troponin. Participants with obesity at both the fourth visit and at age 25 were almost four times more likely to have dangerously elevated troponin levels.


The researchers determined that each 10 years spent being obese was associated with a 1.25 times risk of having elevated troponin levels. They also found that 100 BMI years — a measurement of cumulative weight — was associated with a 21% increased risk of elevated troponin.


Researchers from Johns Hopkins University led the study. It was published in the January 2018 issue of Clinical Chemistry.


Obesity has a far ranging negative effect on health.  Each year, obesity causes approximately 300,000 premature deaths in the United States.  The negative health effects associated with obesity include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, metabolic syndrome and sleep apnea.


Improving eating habits and increasing physical activity play a vital role in preventing obesity.  It is recommended that we eat five to six servings of fruits and vegetables per day. It’s also recommended that we get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity every day.

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