October 2009 A subscription based eBulletin devoted to your Smart Heart Living.

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Sandra Thornton
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In this issue:
Facts about obesity and heart health

In the last issue of Smart Heart Living eBulletin we focused on setting goals for a heart healthy lifestyle– specifically to eat well, to exercise, and to lose weight.

Unfortunately, the percentage of people who are overweight or obese is at an all time high.

In this issue of smart-heart-living eBulletin we'll talk about the problem and just how serious it is for heart health.

Why is obesity a concern?

facts about obesity

Being overweight or obese is bad for your health.

The Framingham Heart Study followed 5881 people who were either obese or overweight for an average of 14 years. After adjusting statistically for other risk factors for heart disease (such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, or hypertension) those who were merely overweight had a risk of developing heart failure 34% greater than non-overweight individuals. Those who were obese had an incredible 104% increase in risk.


  • raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • lowers HDL "good" cholesterol
  • raises blood pressure levels
  • can induce diabetes
  • increases the risk of adult-onset asthma and other breathing problems
  • increases the risk of certain kinds of cancers, including endometrial cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer
  • is hard on your bones, joints, and muscles

The American Heart Association recognizes obesity as a major risk factor for heart disease.

The bottom line
Being obese (or overweight) places you at increased risk of developing heart disease.

How prevalent is obesity?

According to the National Center for Health Statistics(NCHS) in the US
  • more than 34% of Americans are obese
  • 32.7% are overweight

These numbers are based on a 2005-2006 survey of 4,356 adults over the age of 20 who took part in a regular government survey.

In Canada the latest statistics tell us:

  • 23% of adult Canadians are obese
  • 36% are overweight
The rates of overweight and obesity have been climbing over the past 20 years. Since 1985 the number of obese adults in Canada has doubled and the number of overweight and obese children has tripled.

How is obesity measured?

obesity pictures Waist circumference

Carrying excess weight around your middle is associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Waist circumference of 40 inches (102 cm) or more for men, or 35 inches (88 cm) or more for women, means increased risk. And the risk increases with each extra inch. In some ethnic groups (Asian or South Asian origins), a high risk is observed at a circumference lower than the guidelines given above.

Research suggests that it is intra-abdominal fat - fat in the abdominal cavity - that is most closely associated with increased risk of heart disease. This is because intra-abdominal fat cells are highly active cells that release substances known as adipokines (hormones, enzymes and cytokines) into the circulation. Evidence is growing that adipokines are toxic and are associated with insulin resistance as well as raised LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, lowered HDL (good)cholesterol, and raised blood pressure.

Body Mass Index

The body mass index(BMI) formula assesses body weight relative to height.

How is it calculated? The easy way is to refer to a BMI chart. But if you are wondering how the index is calculated - here's the formula. Weight in kilograms is divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2). Or you can multiply weight in pounds by 703, divide by height in inches, then divide again by height in inches.

BMI guidelines

  • less than 18.5 is considered underweight
  • from 18.5 to 24.9 is normal
  • from 25.0 to less than 30.0 is overweight
  • over 30.0 is defined as obese
  • over 40.0 is defined as morbidly obese

For some very muscular people, BMI may not be an accurate reflection of body fat.

Why the obesity epidemic?

obesity pictures With all the focus on healthy eating, why are we, as a society, getting fatter and fatter?

Obesity is at epidemic proportions, the rates of diabetes have increased dramatically.

In many cases it's not how much people eat but what they eat. Fast-food restaurants, junk foods, and highly processed foods have become staples in our diets. Too much sugar, too many refined carbohydrates, too much "fake" food.

Other causes of obesity may include

  • Genetics. Obesity tends to run in families. Some researchers believe that a gene may have some impact on how we regulate our body weight.
  • Aging. As we get older, we don't need as much fuel to maintain our weight. People who eat the same way and do the same activities as they did when they were 20 find they gain weight at 40.
  • Lack of physical activity. People who eat heavily and don't exercise are more likely to be obese.
  • Childhood obesity. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults.
  • Illness. Hormone problems such as an under active thyroid (hypothyroidism), depression, and some rare diseases of the brain can cause obesity.
  • Medications. Steroids and some medications such as beta blockers may cause weight gain.
  • Eating disorders. Binge eating and night-eating disorders account for as many as 10 to 20 percent of people who seek treatment for obesity.

What about the increase in childhood obesity?

childhood obesity facts Increasing obesity among children and youth is a major concern.

Twenty percent of overweight four-year-olds will become overweight adults, 40% of older children and up to 80% of teenagers who are overweight will become overweight adults. To put this in perspective, 26% of Canadian children and adolescents aged 2 to 17 are overweight or obese.

One study conducted by researchers at Nemours Children’s Clinic in Jacksonville has found that by as early as 7 years of age, being obese may raise a child’s future risk of heart disease and stroke, even without the presence of other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.

Weight gain during adolescence and young adult life may be one of the most important determinants of heart disease and stroke later in life.

What can we do?

Healthy behaviors to protect your heart begin at a young age and continue through all stages of life. For example, studies indicate that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of overweight and obesity later in life and the longer the baby is breastfed, the greater the effect.

All of us can adopt a healthier diet.

Avoid processed foods - shop the periphery of the grocery store. The fresh produce, bakery, meat and fish, dairy and eggs, are all on the outer edges of the store. The inside is primarily processed and packaged goods. The less time you spend in the middle of the store, the less processed food you'll take home!

Cut back on the simple carbohydrates in your diet such as

  • white sugar
  • corn syrup
  • fruit juice
  • soda pop
  • candy
  • cake
  • bread and pasta

Learn more about nutrition and obesity.

Researchers are starting to shift the focus from fats to carbohydrates as the culprit in the growing obesity epidemic. We recommend the following books:

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health by Gary Taubes

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan

The Protein Power Lifeplan by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades

The 6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades

Get active
Engage in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate level physical activity, most days of the week. Examples of moderate level activities include brisk walking, biking, raking leaves, swimming, dancing, and water aerobics.

See more tips on weight loss on Smart-Heart-Living.com

Information presented here is not intended to replace the advice of your physician. Consult your doctor before changing diet or exercise programs.

SOURCES: American Heart Association, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, British Heart & stroke Foundation, Texas Heart Institute, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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