The connection between obesity, heart attack and other serious health problems

Being overweight is more than a cosmetic problem, it greatly raises the risk for many diseases and conditions, especially coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a condition in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart but plaque can narrow or block the coronary arteries and reduce blood flow to the heart muscle, which can ultimately lead to a heart attack.

The importance of BMI

One simple tool that's used to estimate ideal and overweight ranges is called the body mass index (BMI). (Available online at
) The BMI scale determines weight ranges based on height. As your body mass index (BMI) increases, so does your risk of having a heart attack or heart failure - a serious condition in which your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs.

Waist Circumference

Another quick tool for determining a person's risk for obesity-related diseases is waist circumference. The BMI can indicate whether you have too much fat but where fat is located on the body is also important. Carrying much of that fat around the waist can lead to more health problems than if the fat is distributed in the hips and thighs.

Position a tape measure "just snug" around your bare abdomen, right above the hip bone. Relax and measure your waist.

You may have a higher risk of excess weight related diseases if your waist measurements are 35 inches or more for a woman or 40 inches or more for a man.

Other health problems associated with obesity include:

Type 2 diabetes
Certain cancers
High blood pressure
  Respiratory problems
Liver disease
Sleep apnea
Hormonal problems

The good news is that even a small loss in weight (10%) may help an obese person reduce their risk of weight-related diseases.

Want to lower your risk of obesity and heart disease?

Losing weight can be difficult but the formula is simple - burn more calories than you consume. These steps can help:

  • eat a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • eat sensible portions
  • get plenty of exercise (even as little as 15 minutes every day has been found to offer health benefits)
  • reduce saturated fats and trans fats
  • keep fat intake under 35% of total calories eaten daily -- with the majority of these fats being unsaturated fats.
  • limit the amount of refined carbohydrates that you eat but include include plenty of fiber-rich whole-grain products. People who consume more dietary fiber in their diet have a lesser chance of being overweight.

Fats to avoid:

  • Saturated fats: found primarily in fatty meats, mayonnaise, and dairy products like butter and cheeses, saturated fats tend to raise total cholesterol levels in the body.
  • Trans fats: small amounts can be found in meats and dairy foods but 80% of all trans fats in a typical American diet come from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, an artificial fat created to extend the shelf life of many snacks and baked goods. For example, hydrogenated fats can help keep crackers crispy for years. In the body, however, trans fats not only raise total cholesterol levels but they also deplete our heart-protective good cholesterol.

Healthy fats:

  • Unsaturated fats: are plentiful in fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Intake of these fats should be carefully monitored, however, since they still contain a lot of calories.

Trans Fats 101 | University of Maryland Medical Center
Dietary fats explained | Penn State Hershey Medical Center

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