FIRST PERSON | For many obese people, the risk of dying of heart disease might not be any higher than it is for their thinner friends, British researchers believe. This startling conclusion comes after years of warnings from the medical community of the link between obesity and cardiovascular disease and early death.
A research team from University College London concluded that when a person is obese but metabolically healthy, his or her risk of dying from heart disease or any other cause is the same as everyone else's, according to Medical News Today. Their findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The seven-year study examined mortality and medical records of more than 22,000 subjects. Around 45 percent of the individuals were male. Females were approximately 55 percent of the group.
Researchers collected information on diabetes status, waist circumference, low-grade inflammation, blood pressure, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level. Based on this information, they classified subjects as either metabolically healthy (one metabolic abnormality at most) or metabolically unhealthy (two or more abnormalities). Those with a body mass of at least 30 were labeled obese.
Total deaths in the group were 1,868, with 604 related to cardiovascular disease. Obese subjects who had no current illnesses showed no greater risk of heart disease than those who weren't obese. While patients classified as metabolically unhealthy had an elevated risk of mortality from all causes, metabolically healthy obese subjects had no increased risk of cardiovascular disease or all-cause mortality over the seven-year period.
For decades, the medical community has emphasized the link between cardiovascular disease and obesity. The Mayo Clinic lists obesity as a heart disease risk factor, along with age, family history, diabetes, and other factors.
The American Heart Association defines obesity as too much body fat. The organization states that when a person's weight is in a healthy range, he or she has a much lower risk of developing heart disease.
So what's a person to conclude?
Whenever I give my family history, doctors always immediately ask if anyone died of heart disease. They look crestfallen when I give a negative reply.
I grew up in a family of obese people. When I say obese, I mean at least three generations of obese. At a perpetual 20 pounds over "chart weight," I was by far the smallest member. My family didn't just eat. They ate fat -- tons of it. A Thanksgiving dinner for 30 relatives meant sweet bread, biscuits, rolls, turkey, ham, beef roast, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, cherry pie, chocolate cake, and lots of apple cider. Funny, I don't remember any salad or other vegetables.
They might have been obese, but not one of them had heart disease as far as I know. Maybe they were all metabolically healthy.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online articles. She specializes in health and medical writing and has a particular interest in diseases and other conditions that affect quality of life.