Being overweight can lead to a myriad of physical health problems like high blood pressure, a risk of developing diabetes, strokes, and heart disease. If you are obese, then those risks increase, and it can also take a toll on your body, leading to arthritis and making it more difficult to remain mobile. Several links between obesity and heart disease exist, and it is important to be aware of them.

What is Obesity?

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Before understanding the links between being obese how it increases the risk of developing heart disease, it is essential to know the definition of obesity. Obesity is having an excessive amount of body fat, whose measurement equates to a BMI, Body Mass Index, of 30 or above.

To measure BMI, which indicates if an adult is obese or morbidly obese, divide the weight of the person in pounds by their height in inches squared x 703. So, the formula looks like BMI = weight (lbs.)/[height (in.)]² x703.

If someone weighs 235 lbs. and they are 5’ 7” tall, which is 67”, then the formula would be 235/[67”]²x703 = 235/4,489 x 703 = 0.05235 x 703 = 36.80 BMI.

Since their BMI is over 30, this person would be in the obese category. However, if this person is experiencing high blood pressure or has diabetes, then they would be morbidly obese. Morbid obesity is usually for people with a BMI of 40 or more, and it is a very serious condition.

The Links To Heart Disease

Several risk factors exist for heart disease, which is the number one natural cause of death in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, one out of every three Americans dies from some form of cardiovascular disease, which is about 836,546 people every year.

About 92.1 million Americans have some form of heart disease, which costs approximately $330 billion in direct and indirect costs regarding healthcare expenses and lost work productivity. They list seven factors that can cause heart disease, which they call the “Life’s Simple 7” and include:

  • Smoking
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Overweight/Obesity
  • Improper Nutrition
  • High Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure

Obesity is one of the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7 risk factors because a person who is obese is more likely to have high blood pressure, high blood lipids like triglycerides, or LDL cholesterol, high overall cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

It is interesting to note that the number of Americans who die from heart disease (one in three) is the same as the number of those who are obese, which is also one in three Americans. This statistic indirectly shows a link between heart disease and obesity.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

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Metabolic syndrome shows a clear link between obesity and heart disease, diabetes, or having a stroke because it is a group of risk factors for these diseases. The condition, which is also known as Syndrome X or insulin resistance syndrome, affects one in every five Americans.

The people who are at risk for having this condition include:

  • Those with central obesity, which is high amounts of fat around the waist or abdomen
  • Those who have type 2 diabetes or a strong family history of it
  • Those who have clinical signs of insulin resistance, which can include darkened skin on the back of the neck or underarms and skin tags, especially on the neck
  • Certain ethnicities are at higher risk for this condition

Also, as people age, their risk of metabolic syndrome increases. It affects about 40 percent of people who are in the 60s and 70s.

The Results of Metabolic Syndrome

Although the cause of this condition is not known, researchers do know it can cause several problems that can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which themselves are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The syndrome can damage coronary arteries, which is the main cause of developing heart disease. Also, it can change how kidneys filter sodium from blood, increase triglycerides, the risk of blood clots, and it can slow down insulin production.

Metabolic syndrome doesn’t have any symptoms as it develops over time. A doctor would need to do several tests to diagnose this condition, including a lipid profile, blood glucose levels, and check the blood pressure of at-risk patients.

Hardening of Arteries

Damage to the coronary arteritis can include the build-up of plaque that narrows them and can lead to strokes and heart disease. Plaque in blood consists of:

  • Fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Calcium
  • Fibrin, which is a clotting agent
  • Cell waste

This build-up is known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. It impedes blood flow or blood clots can form that lead to strokes or heart attacks. Researchers found that people with type 2 diabetes also contributes to arterial damage, which further increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

People with diabetes have cells that cannot efficiently handle sugar, which causes it to build-up in their blood. Diabetes also increases atherosclerosis inflammation that can increase the risk of heart attacks because the fatty deposits in blood are seen as invaders to the body’s immune system, which then attacks them.

The immune response causes inflammation that causes arterial plaque to swell and rupture, which blocks blood flow. Diabetes also causes an increase in free radical production that can damage or prematurely kill cells, known as apoptosis. Also, it reduces the amount of nitrous oxide (NO) in blood that helps to relax blood vessels.

Weight Management

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Carrying extra weight, as obese people do, also forces the heart to work harder to circulate blood throughout the body. Over time, the heart can begin to fail due to the increase in stress on it. Fortunately, losing a small amount of weight can make a big difference in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In a study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, researchers found that when study participants, who were all obese, lost weight, improvements were found in four factors of heart and vascular health:

  • The heart’s pumping ability
  • The relaxation of the heart
  • The thickness of the heart's muscle tissue
  • The thickness of the carotid artery walls

They also found that these benefits were able to continue for several months, even after participants stopped weight loss and regained some of their weight. The researchers were able to conclude that losing 10 percent of body weight can benefit someone who is obese.

Some people may only need to lose 15 to 20 pounds for their heart function to improve, lower their blood pressure, and prevent developing type 2 diabetes.

Heart-Healthy Diet

If you are obese, then losing weight is vital to protecting your health, especially your heart health. Changing your dietary habits can seem daunting but, if you follow a heart-healthy diet, then you can lose weight and get the nutrition you need to be healthier.

A heart-healthy diet consists of limiting fat, reducing sodium, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and eating low-fat proteins. Since most processed and fast foods contain a considerable amount of fat and sodium, it is important to limit them or give them up.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

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When shopping for fruits and vegetables, they can be fresh from the produce department, or you can buy canned and frozen ones as well. However, avoid those in butter or cheese sauces, buy low-sodium canned vegetables if they are available, and fruits canned in juice or water instead of syrup.

If low-sodium vegetables are not available, you can dump the water from the can and rinse them off with running water before heating them on the stove or in a microwave to wash off as much sodium as possible.

Eat Whole Grains

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Avoid bread, pastries, and other products with white flour or refined sugar. Instead, buy whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, whole-wheat flour, high-fiber cereal, and grains like brown rice, barley, and buckwheat.

Limit Fats

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Avoid any foods with trans fats in them. Trans fats, or trans-fatty acids, exist naturally in some foods such as dairy and red meat, but usually, they come from a process that solidifies oil at room temperatures. To solidify vegetable oil, companies add hydrogen to it, making it easier to store for long periods of time because it has a longer shelf life.

Trans fats are found on food labels as partially hydrogenated oil and are in foods like:

  • Cookies, cakes, pie crust, crackers, and other types of processed baked goods.
  • Potato, tortilla or corn chips, microwave popcorn.
  • Deep fat fried foods like French fries, chicken, fish.
  • Canned biscuits, pizza dough, or cinnamon rolls.
  • Stick margarine and non-dairy creamers.

Use healthy oils for cooking like olive, canola, nut or vegetable oils. Also, eat or add avocado to your foods, along with nuts and seeds.

Reduce Sodium

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It is especially important to limit salt when you're on a heart-healthy diet because it retains fluids and constricts blood vessels, both of which forces the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.

Choose low-sodium foods, don't use table salt, and read food labels to check on levels of sodium so that you can choose better alternatives. If you eat a heart-healthy diet and limit your calorie intake, you can lose weight and reduce the risks of obesity and heart disease.

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