Race, Ethnicity Were Key in Gauging Heart Disease Risk

Heart disease risk and fat storage location varied with race and ethnicity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Higher levels of fat around a man’s heart have often been associated with heart disease. However, when it comes to determining a man’s risk for heart disease, his race, ethnicity and fat storage may be key.

In a recent study, researchers studied heart disease risk in men based on a number of factors, such as race, ethnicity and where they stored body fat.

The study authors noted that doctors may want to take into account race and ethnicity when designing obesity-related medical programs.

"Speak with a dietitian if you are battling your weight."

Lead study author Samar El Khoudary, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, said in a press release that “if you are an African American man and carry excess weight around the mid-section, then you have a higher likelihood of more fat around the heart than if you gain weight evenly throughout your body.”

“But the reverse is true for Koreans — their heart disease risk is greater with overall weight gain. Knowing this can help doctors specify the right physical training for each racial ethnic group to reduce their heart disease risk” he said.

Dr. El Khoudary and team studied patients from a past study known as the ERA Jump study. That study included data obtained from electron-beam tomography (EBCT). EBCT is a test used to detect heart disease.

The patients were healthy men, ages 40 to 49, enrolled between the years 2002 and 2006. All patients underwent a physical exam and took a lifestyle survey.

The research team reviewed the medical histories of 1,199 patients who were white, black, Japanese or Korean.

Healthy males were free of heart disease, type 1 diabetes and other severe diseases.

The researchers looked at the amount of ectopic cardiovascular fat (ECF) around patients' hearts. Higher volumes of ECF are often associated with heart disease risk.

The study authors noted that, for white males, greater body mass index (BMI) and stomach fat were equally likely to reveal increased levels of fat around the heart. BMI is a height-to-weight measure of total body fat.

Korean males with higher BMIs had greater chances of having fat around their hearts, but stomach fat mattered less. Japanese men's BMIs has less of an impact on ECF, but they were at risk if they carried fat in their stomachs. The study authors noted that, overall, Asians had a lower risk of heart disease than whites.

Black men who carried more weight around their stomachs were at a similar risk of having more fat around the heart and faced a higher risk for obesity-related heart disease than other racial groups.

"This article suggests that different ethnic groups have different risks for developing fatty hearts depending on where they store fat," said Jeffrey Schussler, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital and Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

"It's an interesting observation, but since we can't choose where we store fat, the bottom line is to try not to store extra fat, as some of it may end up being stored around your heart," said Dr. Schussler, who was not involved in this study.

Dr. El Khoudary concluded medical providers may want to focus their efforts on reducing overall BMI and stomach fat levels, depending on patient race or ethnicity.

This study was published Sept. 10 in the International Journal of Obesity.

Grants from the National Institutes of Health and Japanese Ministry of Education funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 15, 2014
Last Updated:
September 26, 2014