Heart & Vascular Program

Heart Health

Risk Factors: Obesity

Excess body weight is a contributor to many health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease. With an increase in body weight, the heart must work harder to meet its demands. The tendency toward obesity is fostered by dietary and exercise habits, such as lack of physical activity combined with high calorie, high fat and high sugar foods.

Here are some facts about obesity:

  • Due to its effect on blood lipid levels, obesity increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Losing weight lowers triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • A weight loss of five to 10 per cent can reduce total blood cholesterol.
  • Cardiovascular health changes can be seen in childhood based on the effects of obesity. This increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease an adult.
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of illness and death associated with coronary heart disease.
  • Obesity is a major risk factor for heart attack, and is now recognized as such by the Canadian Cardiovascular Society and the American Heart Association.

We all have different body shapes and frames. There is a range of weights that are healthy for each height. A measure called the body mass index (BMI) is used to figure out your healthy weight range.

The risk associated with obesity is higher when fat is concentrated in the abdominal area rather than in the hips. Another way to assess fat distribution is by measuring your waist circumference which is considered high if it is more than 102 centimetres (40 inches) in men or 88 cm (35 in.) in women. Waist circumference measurements greater than these indicates increased risk of heart disease.

If your BMI and waist circumference show that you are above your healthy weight range, remember to set realistic goals for weight loss of no more than 0.5-0.9 kilograms (one or two pounds) per week. If maintained, even weight losses as small as 10 per cent of body weight can improve one's health. A registered dietitian can help you attain your goals.