• Filipa Dias

Obesity and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Every 37 seconds, a person’s life ends as a result of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Ranging from hypertension, heart failure, stroke, or coronary artery diseases—CVD is a leading cause of death in the 21st century. As one of the top modifiable risks to prevent cardiovascular disease, obesity is not only an independent risk factor- it also contributes to other illnesses associated with the risk factors of CVD.

Obesity can be defined as “the excessive accumulation of fat due to an overconsumption of calories, according to an individual’s metabolic system,”. The excess of adipose tissue (specialized connective tissue that consists of lipid-rich cells - referred to as fat) alters the heart’s structure, function, and efficiency. For instance, a direct consequence of obesity in this muscle is an enlargement of the left ventricle. The continuous rise of obesity rates—in both adults and children—places a subject at a higher risk of such diseases in three ways.

Firstly, an increase in bad cholesterol—low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—levels caused by an unhealthy diet can hinder the blood vessel’s ability to function. It also prevents good cholesterol—high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—from being produced. Thus, an extensive amount of LDL levels can cause clogged arteries—making them harder and less flexible. The blood is heavily restricted, forcing the body to work harder to transport blood through the body. Consequently, this increases blood pressure and can result in heart failure because the heart is required to work significantly harder.

Furthermore, obesity leads to hypertension. As the body of an individual grows, more nutrients and oxygen are required to function. In turn, the body will require more work to sustain itself. . Any excess lipids become stored in the adipose tissue—which is less vascularized than other types of tissue—resulting in a more cardiac workload and increasing the chances of a stroke.

Insulin sensitivity levels are a risk factor in developing CVD. With obesity oftentimes comes diabetes. According to the American Heart Association, 68% of those suffering from obesity will, as a result, suffer from cardiovascular disease. Obesity makes the individual two to four times more prone to CVD.

However, obesity is preventable through lifestyle changes in an individual’s diet and activity levels. Exercise can reduce a subject’s body fat percentage, easing the heart’s workload in its transportation of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. A subject’s likeliness to develop CVDs can be lessened by 20-25% with regular exercise.

Apart from promoting a healthy weight, exercise can also improve the heart’s function directly. Regular exercise reduces blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Simultaneously, intense physical activity also produces HDL cholesterol. Physical activity also prevents the dilation of blood vessels and results in a better functioning vascular wall (wall of arteries). This is achieved through an increase in the diameter of coronary vessels—which supply the heart with oxygen—and overall improve its ability to pump oxygen throughout the body. The heart is a muscle, like other muscles: the more it works, the stronger it becomes.

Physical activity has been studied among various groups and ethnicities. Latinos, Africans, Asians, and Indigenous are ethnic minorities that tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles—making them more prone to cardiovascular disease. Other groups such as women, people with less than 12th-grade education, disabled people, and people with lower income levels—also suffer the highest levels of a sedentary lifestyle.

Obesity is heavily linked to cardiovascular illnesses and is proven to alter the heart’s structure and intensity of function. Genetics and external risk factors are heavy contributors to a subject’s diagnosis of CVD. Still, it is possible to prevent modifiable risk factors such as obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, to improve the health of the individual.

Works Cited

Akil, Luma, and H Anwar Ahmad. “Relationships between Obesity and Cardiovascular Diseases in Four Southern States and Colorado.” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250069/.

“Cover Story: Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease Risk.” American College of Cardiology, 23 July 2018, www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2018/07/06/12/42/cover-story-obesity-and-cardiovascular-disease-risk#:~:text=Increased Cardiovascular Disease Risk, Harold Bays, MD, FACC.

“Department of Health.” Physical Inactivity and Cardiovascular Disease, www.health.ny.gov/diseases/chronic/cvd.htm.

“Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics - 2020 Update.” Professional.heart.org, professional.heart.org/en/science-news/heart-disease-and-stroke-statistics-2020-update#:~:text=The age-adjusted death rate, day, based on 2017 data.

MyersPhD, Jonathan, et al. “Exercise and Cardiovascular Health.” Circulation, 7 Jan. 2003, www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.CIR.0000048890.59383.8D.

“Three Ways Obesity Contributes to Heart Disease – Penn Medicine.” – Penn Medicine, www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/metabolic-and-bariatric-surgery-blog/2019/march/obesity-and-heart-disease.

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