Extra Pounds Weigh Heavy on Female Hearts

Coronary heart disease risk for women rises even with small increases in body mass index

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Obesity is bad for the heart. While some research has found that a little extra fat may help you live longer, a new study finds that even a slight rise in BMI can tip the scales against you.

At the beginning of 2013, a study from the Centers Disease for Control and Prevention indicated people with a BMI of 25 to 30 might actually have a lower mortality risk than normal weight people.

But now a new study finds women who have even a small increase in BMI increase their odds of developing coronary heart disease (CHD).

"Exercise and eat healthy to avoid health risks of obesity."

The American Heart Association recognizes obesity as a major risk factor for heart disease, and a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is regarded as obese.

Dexter Canoy, MD, from University of Oxford, Cancer Epidemiology Unit, in England, led an investigation based on data from the Million Woman Study, an almost decade-long project involving 1.2 million women from England and Scotland.

Dr. Canoy and his fellow researchers observed that every five-unit increase in BMI increased incidence of coronary heart disease by 23 percent.

Scientists commented that this is equivalent to the risk conferred by getting older by 2.5 years.

The results also showed that one in eleven lean middle-aged women (with an average BMI of 21) will be admitted to a hospital or will have died from CHD between the ages of 55 to 74. For obese women (with an average BMI of 34), that number goes up to one in six.

"The risk of developing CHD increases even with small incremental increases in BMI,” said Dr. Canoy, “and this is seen not only in the heaviest but also in women who are not usually considered obese. Small changes in BMI, together with leading a healthy lifestyle by not smoking, avoiding excess alcohol consumption, and being physically active could potentially prevent the occurrence of CHD for a large number of people in the population."

Dr. Canoy told dailyRx News, “Our study shows that body size, as defined by BMI, is associated with subsequent risk of incident CHD (first onset of heart disease whether it is fatal or non-fatal heart disease), with the lowest risk among lean women and highest risk in obese women. In our study, we demonstrate that this risk increases with increasing BMI. Although the highest risks were observed in obese women, we observed that the risk is increased even among non-obese women.”

In future research, Dr. Canoy would like to see the “impact of BMI on the occurrence of other important diseases that affect women.”

The study was published in April in BMC Medicine, published by BioMed Central.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 9, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013