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Overweight and Obesity
A healthy weight is important for a long, vigorous life. Yet overweight and obesity (extreme overweight) have reached epidemic levels in the United States. About 62 percent of all American women age 20 and older are overweight—about 33 percent of them are obese (extremely overweight). The more overweight a woman is, the higher her risk for heart disease.
Overweight also increases the risks for stroke, congestive heart failure, gallbladder disease, arthritis, and breathing problems, as well as for breast, colon, and other cancers. Overweight in children is also swiftly increasing.
Among young people 6 to 19 years old, more than 16 percent are overweight, compared to just 4 percent a few decades ago. This is a disturbing trend because overweight teens have a greatly increased risk of dying from heart disease in adulthood.
Even our youngest citizens are at risk. About 10 percent of preschoolers weigh more than is healthy for them. Our national waistline is expanding for two simple reasons—we are eating more and moving less.
Today, Americans consume about 200 to 300 more calories per day than they did in the 1970s. Moreover, as we spend more time in front of computers, video games, TV, and other electronic pastimes, we have fewer hours available for physical activity.
There is growing evidence of a link between “couch potato” behavior and an increased risk of obesity and many chronic diseases. It is hard to overstate the dangers of an unhealthy weight. If you are overweight, you are more likely to develop heart disease even if you have no other risk factors.
Each year, an estimated 300,000 U.S. adults die of diseases related to obesity. The bottom line is that maintaining a healthy weight is an extremely important part of heart disease prevention. It can help to protect your health—and may even save your life.
The Shape of Your Body And Heart Disease
If you’re an older woman, your heart disease risk might be shaped by the shape of your body. Researchers report that if you look more like an apple than a pear, your chances of heart trouble are heightened, even if you are a normal weight.
Interestingly, when it comes to the shape of your body and heart disease, women who carried their weight in their legs had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, the study authors added, though the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
“Our findings suggest that postmenopausal women, despite having normal weight, could have a varying risk of cardiovascular disease because of different fat distributions around either their middle or their legs,” said study author Dr. Qibin Qi, an associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
For the study, researchers gathered data on nearly 162,000 postmenopausal women who took part in the Women’s Health Initiative study between 1993 and 1998. The women were followed until February 2017.
The investigators found that women whose fat was stored mostly around the middle (apple-shaped) had almost twice the risk of heart disease or stroke, compared with women whose weight was stored in their legs.
On the flip side, that risk was 40% lower in women whose weight was mostly in the legs, compared to those who had the least weight in their legs. The greatest risk of heart disease was among women whose highest percentage of fat was around their middle and the lowest in their legs. In fact, the risk was more than three times the risk of women with the least body fat and the most leg fat, the researchers found.
Besides weight, people need to pay attention to where the weight is, Qi said. The researchers calculated that if 1,000 women in the study reduced their belly fat from more than 37% to less than 27%, but kept their leg fat the same, six fewer cases of cardiovascular disease would occur each year. And if 1,000 women in the study kept their belly fat the same and increased leg fat from less than 42% to over 49%, three cases of cardiovascular disease would be prevented each year.
Qi cautioned, however, that because the study was done among postmenopausal women, the findings might not apply to younger women or men.
Should You Choose To Lose?
Do you need to lose weight to reduce your risk of heart disease? You can find out by taking three simple steps.
Step 1: Get your number. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 indicates a normal weight. A person with a BMI from 25 to 29.9 is overweight, while someone with a BMI of 30 or higher is obese. Those in the “overweight” or “obese” categories have a higher risk of heart disease and the higher the BMI, the greater the risk.
Step 2: Take out a tape measure. For women, a waist measurement of more than 35 inches increases the risk of heart disease as well as the risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious health conditions. To measure your waist correctly, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hip bones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.
Step 3: Review your risk. The final step in determining your need to lose weight is to find out your other risk factors for heart disease. It is important to know whether you have any of the following: high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood glucose (blood sugar), physical inactivity, smoking, or a family history of early heart disease.
Being age 55 or older or having gone through menopause also increases risk. If you have a condition known as metabolic syndrome your risk of heart disease is particularly high. If you aren’t sure whether you have some of these risk factors, ask your doctor.
Once you have taken these three steps, you can use the information to decide whether you need to take off pounds. Although you should talk with your doctor about whether you should lose weight, keep these guidelines in mind:
- If you are overweight AND have two or more other risk factors, or if you are obese, you should lose weight.
- If you are overweight, have a waist measurement of more than 35 inches, AND have two or more other risk factors, you should lose weight.
- If you are overweight, but do not have a high waist measurement and have fewer than two other risk factors, you should avoid further weight gain.
Small Changes Make a Big Difference
If you need to lose weight, here is some good news. A small weight loss of just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight will help to lower your risks of heart disease and other serious medical disorders. The best way to take off pounds is to do so gradually, by getting more physical activity and following a heart healthy eating plan that is lower in calories and fat. (High-fat foods contain more calories than the same amount of other foods, so they can make it hard for you to avoid excess calories.
But be careful”low fat” doesn’t always mean low in calories. Sometimes extra sugars are added to low-fat desserts, for example.) For some women at very high risk, medication also may be necessary. To develop a weight-loss or weight-maintenance program that works best for you, consult with your doctor, a registered dietitian, or a qualified nutritionist. For ideas on how to lose weight safely and keep it off, see “Aim for a Healthy Weight”.
Physical inactivity raises your risk of heart disease more than you might think. It boosts your chances of developing heart-related problems even if you have no other risk factors. It also increases the likelihood that you will develop other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight. Lack of physical activity leads to more doctor visits, more hospitalizations, and use of medicines for a variety of illnesses.
Yet most women aren’t getting enough physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of Americans are not meeting the recommended levels of physical activity. Fully 16 percent of Americans are not active at all. Overall, older people are less likely to be active than younger individuals, and women tend to be less physically active than men. Physical inactivity is especially common among African American and Hispanic women.
For women, physical inactivity also increases the risk of osteoporosis, which in turn may increase the risk of broken bones. This is worrisome, because women tend to become less physically active as they get older. Fortunately, research shows that as little as 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week helps to protect your health. This level of activity can reduce your risk of heart disease as well as lower your chances of having a stroke, colon cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other medical problems.
Examples of moderate activity are taking a brisk walk, raking leaves, dancing, light weightlifting, house cleaning, or gardening. If you prefer, you can divide your 30-minute activity into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. After reading this article- Shape of Your Body And Heart Disease – Learn about Obesity.