- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Obesity in middle age substantially increases the risk of dying of heart disease later in life, even for those who have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a study has found.

The report by Northwestern University researchers, published in yesterday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that obese adults ages 33 to 65 have a 43 percent higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease after age 65 than those of normal weight in the middle-age bracket.

The authors said this study was needed because of the “epidemics” of both obesity and cardiovascular disease in the United States, and to counter the idea that overweight people need not worry as long their blood pressure and cholesterol levels are normal.

The study found that those who are obese at middle age also have a higher risk for hospitalization and death from other cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, as well as diabetes in older age than those of normal weight at middle age.

The relationship was strongest for diabetes. The obese, without other heart disease risk factors, were 11 times more likely to die from diabetes in old age and eight times more likely of being hospitalized for the condition in their twilight years.

The authors of the study, led by Lijing L. Yan of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, classified obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 18.5 to 24.0 is considered normal.

In the study, the authors said it has been well-established that obesity “adversely affects a large array of health outcomes,” including heart disease, diabetes and elevated levels of blood pressure and cholesterol.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Ms. Yan, also an assistant professor at Peking University in China, said this is the first study to confirm that people obese at middle age are at elevated risk for coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes hospitalization and mortality as seniors.

“Even for those without other risk factors for these conditions, obesity at middle age carried an increased risk,” Ms. Yan said.

For example, obese people in the low risk group for cardiovascular disease had a risk 4.2 times higher than normal-weight people for hospitalization for heart disease after age 65. For the moderate-risk obese group, the risk of hospitalization for heart disease was twice as high. Results were similar for both men and women.

The study examined 17,643 men and women recruited from the Chicago area in the late 1960s and early 1970s for a long-term research project to assess cardiovascular risk. At the start of the study, all participants were free of heart disease, diabetes and electrocardiographic abnormalities, the researchers said.

The Northwestern researchers followed the study subjects for about 30 years or through 2002.

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