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The Link Between Weight and Heart Disease


Updated February 15, 2014

Weight and heart disease are connected, but that doesn't mean being overweight guarantees you'll have heart problems. There are ways to reduce your risk. This article will help you understand the link between weight and heart disease.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a number of abnormal conditions affecting the heart and the blood vessels in the heart. Types of heart disease include coronary artery disease, heart failure, and arrhythmia. The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease, a narrowing or blockage of coronary arteries, which is the major reason people have heart attacks.

How Prevalent is Heart Disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. In 2002, almost 700,000 people died of heart disease, just over half of which were women. These statistics mean that nearly 30% all U.S. deaths were due to heart disease.

Heart disease has been the deadliest health condition for women for 100 years. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease has been the leading killer of adult females since 1908.

How is Weight Connected to Heart Disease?

Overweight is considered a major risk factor for both coronary heart disease and heart attack. Being 20% overweight or more significantly increases your risk for developing heart disease, especially if you have a lot of abdominal fat. The American Heart Association has found that even if you have no other related health conditions, obesity itself increases risk of heart disease.

Being sedentary causes heart disease risk to increase, possibly even more so for women -– inactive females are more likely to become diabetic, have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. All three of these conditions increase the chance of developing heart disease.

Apples vs. Pears

Your risk of developing heart disease may be heightened even more by the way your weight is distributed on your body. Being overweight and “apple-shaped” -- meaning you carry most of your excess weight in your abdominal area -- is considered riskier than being overweight and “pear-shaped.” Apple-shaped individuals also have many other increased health risks including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and stroke.

To find out if your waistline increases your risk of heart disease, you can measure yourself with a measuring tape. You may need a partner to help you measure accurately. The measurement should be taken at the narrowest part of your waist. A high-risk waistline is 35 inches or higher for women and 40 inches or higher for men.

What You Can Do

The good news is, reducing your weight by just 10% can begin to lower your risk of developing heart disease and other obesity-related health problems. Heart disease can often be connected to “known risk factors” with being overweight considered a “modifiable” risk factor (a risk you can do something to prevent). Age and race, on the other hand, are “nonmodifiable” risk factors.

In addition to managing your weight, you can reduce your chances of developing heart disease by controlling other related risk factors such as: controlling your blood pressure, lowering your cholesterol, quitting smoking and getting enough exercise.

A healthy diet is also an important part of lowering your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends a diet that contains no more than 30% of daily calories from fat. For example, if you eat a diet of 2,000 calories per day, no more than 600 calories should come from fat.

To learn more about heart disease, visit The American Heart Association or About.com's Heart Disease site.


American Heart Association. Diseases & Conditions. 1 February 2008.

American Heart Association. Obesity & Overweight. 1 February 2008.

Centers for Disease Control. CDC Heart Disease. 7 February 2008.

Centers for Disease Control. CDC Deaths,Leading Causes for 2002. National Vital Statistics Reports 2005;53(17) as qtd. in DHDSP - Heart Disease - Facts and Statistics. 7 February 2008.

U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health/Medline Plus. Medline Plus: Heart Diseases 4 February 2008.

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