More people die from heart disease in the U.S. – one in three deaths in 2008 – than from any other cause of death. And the obesity epidemic threatens to increase that rate.Obesity alone greatly increases a person’s risk of heart disease, even if that person doesn’t have other risk factors for heart disease. But the link goes deeper. For people with known risks for heart disease – including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use and uncontrolled diabetes – the burden obesity adds makes heart disease all the more likely.Maintaining a normal weight, as measured by a body mass index (BMI) below 25, helps a person to more efficiently circulate blood and manage fluid levels. That means easier work and less stress for the heart, circulatory system and kidneys. But more weight makes the cardiovascular system work harder and adds stress. Obesity is a major factor in raising one’s blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol contributes to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, a major cause of heart attacks.Though heart disease usually strikes in mid and late life, nearly 20 percent of today’s youth are obese – a figure that’s risen through the past two decades. Childhood obesity increases the risk for cardiovascular disease contributors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. In a population sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70 percent of obese youth had at least one risk factor for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.The better job scientists, physicians and individuals do at curbing obesity in children and adults, the more we’ll see cardiovascular disease rates drop.
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