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People who remain obese while younger at high risk for arterial plaque

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

According to a new study, there is an even more compelling reason for obese children and young adults to lose weight. People who are obese for a longer time in their 20s, 30s and 40s are at an increased risk of developing hardened plaque in their arteries. This unseen killer is largely responsible for stroke and heart attack later in life.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "This is important because with the obesity epidemic people are becoming obese at a younger age than in previous generations, and they are spending a longer period of their life with obesity," the study's lead author Jared Reis says. Reis is an epidemiologist in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's division of cardiovascular sciences.

"This is one of the first studies to show that a longer duration of obesity independently contributes to hardened plaque in the arteries, which is sometimes called silent heart disease because there are no symptoms," he says.

That's why those who are overweight earlier in life must take special care to eat right and lose weight. "If we had to target one particular group of Americans for the treatment of obesity, we certainly want to work on children and young adults," Cardiologist Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association, says.

"If we don't tackle obesity in these young people, there will be an epidemic of coronary artery disease just like there is currently an epidemic of obesity," Jessup adds.

About a third of adults in this country are obese, which is roughly 35 or more pounds over a healthy weight. Obesity increases the risk of many diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

Reis and colleagues analyzed data from about 3,300 white and African-American adults who were followed for 25 years. Participants were ages 18 to 30 when they began the study in the mid-1980s, around the start of the U.S. obesity epidemic.

Among the findings, researchers found --

-- For every year the young adults were obese, their risk of developing hardened plaque increased by two percent to four percent. This was independent of the participants' age, sex, race, socio-economic status, BMI, waist circumference, smoking, physical activity level, diet and alcohol consumption, Reis says.

-- People who had the longest duration of obesity and abdominal obesity were at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as had higher rates of type 2 diabetes and were more likely to use lipid-lowering medications and high blood pressure medications.

The reason obesity duration is associated with an increased risk of calcified plaque may be due to the fact that fat is "metabolically active and leads to increases in inflammation, which plays a critical role in the development and progress of atherosclerosis," Reis says.

Atherosclerosis is the term for the process of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin building up in the inner lining of an artery, commonly known as plaque.

Jessup adds, "If there is inflammation in the lining of the coronary arteries, the body attempts to heal that area and may subsequently develop plaque as a way of healing. It's not healthy healing, but that's how it heals."

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