Healthy living

Obesity a heart disease killer in its own right

Obesity a heart disease killer in its own right Fat tissue to blame

Obesity increases the risk of dying from heart disease, regardless of other well-known risk factors, new research has found.

Until now, obesity has been associated with a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, all known risk factors for heart disease. It has therefore been assumed that these risk factors are responsible for the higher rate of heart disease seen in people who are obese.

However, the latest research suggests that fat tissue by itself may increase the risk of dying from heart disease.

Scientists from the University of Glasgow tracked the health of more than 6,000 middle aged men with high cholesterol, but no history of diabetes or cardiovascular disease, for around 15 years.

They compared the risk of a heart attack across categories of increasing body mass index (BMI) using two different models.

One model adjusted for any differences in the age or smoking status of the men, while the second took into account cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, social deprivation and any medications the men were taking.

The findings showed that the higher a man's weight, the higher was his likelihood of having other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

But the risk of death was significantly higher in men who were obese, with a BMI of 30 to 39.9 kg/m2.

However, the scientists found no increased risk of a non-fatal heart attack with increasing BMI, irrespective of which method they used.

Using the model which took into account two heart disease risk factors - age and smoking - the risk of death was 75 per cent higher.

In the other one which adjusted for medication and deprivation, the risk of death was still 60 per cent higher.

The scientists said that fatty tissue may be producing inflammatory chemicals which can increase the risk of fatal heart disease, and may partly explain the results.

Study leader Dr Jennifer Logue warned: "The obesity generation is coming of age. We are going to see more and more complications from obesity, and coming at an earlier age."

Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This study now strengthens the argument that obesity - in its own right - increases the risk of dying from a heart attack, irrespective of other risk factors.

“There is already strong evidence to show that inflammation increases the risk of death from heart disease. This study suggests that fatty ‘adipose’ tissue releases inflammatory substances in the body, which could be contributing to fatal cardiac events.

“Further studies are needed to confirm the same is true in women and people from different ethnic groups, in whom fatty tissue is present in different parts of the body."

This article was published on Tue 15 February 2011

Image © Knut Ekanger -

Related Stories

Use this story

Heart attack
Link to this page
Printer friendly version

Share this page