Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease

Facts about obesity and cardiovascular disease:

About 65 percent (about 129 million people) of the US population is overweight or obese. Being obese increases the risk for many diseases, especially heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

What is considered obese?

Obesity can be determined based on three key measurements, according to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI):

  • body mass index (BMI)
    BMI is your weight relative to your height, including considerations such as amount of bone, muscle, and fat in your body’s composition. If your BMI calculation is 25.0 or higher, you are considered overweight (a BMI over 30 is considered obese).
  • waist circumference
    Your waist circumference indicates abdominal fat. A waist circumference over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women increases the risk for heart disease and other diseases.
  • risk factors
    People with two or more risk factors for heart disease are at even higher risk for heart disease, when combined with a high BMI and/or large waist circumference.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

According to the American Heart Association, the major risk factors for heart disease are:

  • age (65 years and older)
  • male gender
  • heredity
  • smoking
  • high blood cholesterol levels
  • high blood pressure
  • physical inactivity
  • obesity
  • diabetes

Obviously, some of these risk factors, such as age, gender, heredity, or diabetes, cannot be changed. However, it is possible to make lifestyle modifications which may decrease the risk of factors such as smoking, elevated blood cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, physical inactivity, or obesity.

Healthy tips for losing weight:

Successful weight loss requires a long-term weight management program that is realistic, according to the NHLBI Obesity Education Initiative. To help lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight, consider the following:

  • Set realistic goals. Do not focus only on the actual weight loss, but look at dietary and exercise changes that will help to keep weight off. In addition, goals should be:
    • Specific (Example: “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next six weeks,” not “I’d like to lose a few pounds.”)
    • Attainable (Example: “I want to lose five pounds this month” is more realistic than “I want to lose 20 pounds this month.”)
    • Forgiving (Example: “I only lost 3½ pounds this month instead of five pounds. But, you know what? My pants are starting to feel a little loose! I’ll try again to lose more weight next month.”)
  • Set short-term goals that lead to long-term goals. Short-term goals are small steps that are easier to achieve and will help position you toward attaining your long-term goals. (Example: A goal of losing five pounds per month is realistic, in most cases, and will help lead you to a long-term goal of losing a larger amount.)
  • Reward yourself. Effective rewards are those that are timely, contingent on your goal achievement, and something valuable to you. Rewards, however, should not include food. (Example: When you meet a goal, reward yourself with a new CD, a short weekend vacation, a new outfit, tickets to a concert or ball game, or other non-food item which makes you happy.)
  • Monitor yourself. Keep track of your progress by keeping a record of what you eat, how often you exercise, and/or your weight on a regular basis. This way you can better evaluate your rate of success in losing weight and make adjustments where necessary.
  • Avoid situations that cause you to overeat. By avoiding certain situations or settings that you associate with eating, you can often break the habit of overeating, such as not eating while watching television.
  • Eat slower. Eating slower gives your body time to recognize that you have been fed. Also, schedule your meals at regular times, so that you will not skip or delay a meal, and overeat later to compensate.

Facts about cholesterol and obesity:

The link between high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol) in the blood and increased risk of coronary heart disease has been demonstrated many times. Although normal-weight people can have high LDL cholesterol levels, people who are overweight tend to have higher LDL cholesterol levels than people who are not overweight. According to the NHLBI, blood cholesterol levels are affected by:

  • diet
    Excessive consumption of saturated fats, dietary cholesterol, and excess calories can adversely affect blood cholesterol levels.
  • weight
    Obesity can increase LDL cholesterol levels and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (often referred to as the “good” cholesterol).
  • physical activity
    Lack of physical activity can increase LDL cholesterol levels and decrease (HDL) cholesterol.
  • heredity
    Genetic background can determine the production and processing of cholesterol in your body.
  • age
    Blood cholesterol levels increase after age 20.
  • gender
    Until menopause, women tend to have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men. After menopause, a woman’s LDL cholesterol levels rise, increasing the risk for heart disease.