AUG 01, 2018 2:00 PM PDT

Weight and Cardiovascular Health in Young Adults

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

The prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled from 1975 to 2016. In 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight and 650 million obese with 2.8 million people dying yearly as a result. Childhood obesity is one of the most pressing public health challenges of the 21st century, with 41 million preschool children being overweight in 2016. Obesity affects all ages and socioeconomic groups, both industrialized and developing countries, and encompasses severe social and psychological dimensions. A recent study published in Circulation looked at the relation of body mass index to cardiovascular health at a younger age, and how this impacts heart health mid-to-late life.

Obesity refers to too much body fat accumulation that presents a risk to an individuals health. The measure of obesity, body mass index (BMI), considers a person’s weight and height. A BMI of 30 or more is deemed to be obese, and 25 or more is considered overweight. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for disease such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. The relationship between body mass index and these disease outcomes may reflect long-term exposure to high fat and other comorbidities, which could lead to structural and functional cardiovascular changes. For children aged 2-19 years old in the United States, 18.5% are obese, with a decrease in obesity prevalence as the level of education and income increased in a household. However, the relationship between body mass index and cardiovascular health has not been studied in young adults.

Researchers from the United Kingdom triangulated findings from three different types of genetic analysis to determine the relationship between BMI and cardiovascular health in young adults. While previous studies suggest associations between risk factors of behaviors and heart disease, this study shows proof of cause-and-effect. Utilizing data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children they analyzed thousands of participants aged 17 and 21 from the United Kingdom. The analyses used in the study, Mendelian randomization and recall-by-genotype, exploits genetic variation which allows for the experiment to be similar to a randomized trial, where differences in outcome such as heart structure and function can be compared with differences in BMI.  

The study showed that higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as enlargement of the left ventricle, were correlated to higher BMI. "Thickening of vessel walls is widely considered to be the first sign of atherosclerosis, a disease in which fatty plaques build up within the arteries and lead to heart disease. However, our findings suggest that higher BMIs cause changes in the heart structure of the young that may precede changes in blood vessels," said Dr. Kaitlin H. Wade, lead author of the study and associate at the Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol Medical School in the United Kingdom. Lowering the body mass index to a normal range at a young age helps prevent later heart disease that may occur as a result of childhood overweight or obesity. Future research plans include studying the relationship between BMI and heart structure in older populations as well as exploring other disease mechanisms, such as the abundance and diversity of microbes living in the gut.

To learn more about obesity and the history behind its rise to global epidemic watch the video below!

Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, American Heart Association

About the Author
  • Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
You May Also Like
OCT 04, 2020
Cardiology
The Genetics of Body Fat May Shape Health Risks
OCT 04, 2020
The Genetics of Body Fat May Shape Health Risks
The work may help explain why men and women are at risk for different diseases and often respond to different treatments ...
OCT 29, 2020
Cardiology
Treating Cardiovascular Calcification at the Source
OCT 29, 2020
Treating Cardiovascular Calcification at the Source
The term cardiovascular disease covers a broad array of health problems. Everyone tends to think of heart attacks or hyp ...
NOV 12, 2020
Cardiology
Creating a Mouse Model to Test RBM20 Dependent Dilated Cardiomyopathy
NOV 12, 2020
Creating a Mouse Model to Test RBM20 Dependent Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Cardiovascular disease is something that, in most cases, is within our ability to control. A healthy diet and active lif ...
DEC 22, 2020
Cardiology
A New 3D Imaging Method for Atherosclerosis Analysis in Mice
DEC 22, 2020
A New 3D Imaging Method for Atherosclerosis Analysis in Mice
Imaging in research may not sound glamorous, but how else would news stories get those cool looking science photos for t ...
JAN 19, 2021
Cardiology
Risk of Atrial Fibrillation Raised by Daily Alcoholic Drink
JAN 19, 2021
Risk of Atrial Fibrillation Raised by Daily Alcoholic Drink
Some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol intake is linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease. But that ...
APR 27, 2021
Cardiology
New miRNAs Might Help Diagnose Severe Dilated Cardiomyopathy
APR 27, 2021
New miRNAs Might Help Diagnose Severe Dilated Cardiomyopathy
The heart is one of the most reliable parts of the body. It pumps day and night, delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients t ...
Loading Comments...