Even without high blood pressure or other signs of illness, obese adults have a much higher risk of developing heart disease than normal-weight peers, according to a study from Denmark.
The results contradict recent research suggesting a subgroup of obese individuals known as “metabolically healthy obese” may not face an increased risk for obesity-related complications such as heart or kidney disease, researchers write in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology
“People have a general understanding now that it is not unhealthy to be overweight or obese as long as your lifestyle is relatively healthy,” said senior study author Kristine Faerch of the Steno Diabetes Centre in Copenhagen. “But overweight and obesity is associated with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” she told Reuters Health by email. “Maintaining a healthy weight through life is important to lower risk.”
Faerch and colleagues analyzed data for more than 6,200 men and women who participated in a large Danish study and were followed for at least 10 years.
They looked at participants’ starting body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height. BMI of less than 24.9 kilograms per square meter was considered normal weight, BMI of 25 to 29.9 was considered overweight and BMI of 30 or above was considered obese. Someone 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 210 pounds, for example, would have a BMI of 31.
The researchers also looked at four heart disease risk factors at the beginning of the study and at periodic follow-ups: low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and elevated blood pressure, triglycerides and blood sugar. Metabolically healthy individuals were defined as having none of these risk factors, and metabolically unhealthy individuals had at least one.
During the follow-up period, 323 participants developed heart disease. Men who started out metabolically healthy and obese had three times the risk compared to metabolically healthy normal-weight men. Metabolically healthy obese women had double the risk of their normal-weight counterparts.
Men who were metabolically healthy and overweight, but not obese, at the outset had the same risk as healthy normal-weight men, and risk was only slightly increased for metabolically healthy
Researchers also factored into their calculations any changes in metabolic health status over the course of the study. Just 58 men and 114 women, or 3 percent of the study population, qualified as “metabolically healthy obese” at the start. And 40 percent of these became metabolically unhealthy during a five-year period. (Reuters)