Half of Overweight Adults May Have Healthy Hearts

August 13, 2008 09:44 AM
by Cara McDonough
When it comes to heart health, a person’s weight may not matter as much as previously thought.

Surprising Findings

A new national study shows that about half of overweight people have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels while “an equally startling number of trim people suffer from some of the ills associated with obesity,” reports the Associated Press.

According to the American Heart Association, overweight people have a body mass index (BMI)—a measurement that assesses weight in relation to height—of 25.0 to less than 30.0, or about 10 percent over ideal body weight. Being overweight or obese has long been associated with a higher risk of heart problems.

But the new study shows that not as many overweight people are plagued with heart problems as once thought. On the flip side, people who are not overweight and seem perfectly healthy could have serious heart health issues. 

About 51 percent of overweight adults—approximately 36 million people nationwide—had mostly normal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar. Roughly one-third of obese adults—those with a BMI of 30.0 or greater—also fell into the healthy range.

And about a fourth of adults who were in the recommended weight range had unhealthy levels in two of those categories. “We’re really talking about taking a look with a very different lens” at weight and health risks, said study author MaryFran Sowers, a University of Michigan obesity researcher.

Analysis: Weight still matters

“This is not to say that obesity is not a problem,” said researcher Rachel Wildman at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “But there may be certain individuals for whom obesity is not as big a problem as we thought.”

She believes other studies must be done before the information is taken too seriously. For example, the study did not take into account what people ate. The overweight but heart healthy individuals. may have better diets overall, she said.

“I don’t think this is completely genetic,” Wildman said. “I’m sure there are things people can do to help bring down their risk factors even if they can’t get the weight off.”

Study co-author Judith Wylie-Rosett said that the study shouldn’t send the message “that we don’t need to worry about weight.” Half of overweight people do have an elevated risk of heart disease. The study may mean, however, that for overweight people without risk factors, losing weight “might be important only from a cosmetic perspective.”

Related Topic: Tim Russert’s sudden death

The study may be confusing—or even scary—to some as it suggests that traditional health factors, like being in the recommended weight range, don’t guarantee cardiovascular health or necessarily prevent death from cardiovascular disease.

The nation was shocked when “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert died in June of a heart attack. Russert, who did have several risk factors for a heart attack, including type 2 diabetes, had been exercising, was on blood pressure medicine and was regularly seeing a doctor. A stress test just two months prior to his death showed excellent cardiac function.

The New York Times reported at the time that Russert’s sudden death may contain a lesson for those with risk factors, and even for those without: “If there is any lesson in his death … it is a reminder that heart disease can be silent, and that people, especially those with known risk factors, should pay attention to diet, blood pressure, weight and exercise—even if they are feeling fine.”

Reference: Cardiovascular health and obesity


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