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Being obese for a decade boosts risk of heart attack or stroke, study finds

People under 50 who have been obese for a decade are at greater risk of heart attack or stroke, early research suggests.

Findings presented at Endo 2024 – the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts – suggest women younger than 50 who have been obese for 10 years increased their risk of developing these conditions by up to 60%.

For men under 65, the increased risk is up to 57%, according to Alexander Turchin, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The correlation was not seen, however, in women who were more than 50-years-old and men over 65, he added.

Findings also seemed to show that being obese for a short period of time was not associated with an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.

Prof Turchin said this meant “obesity at any given point in time does not ‘seal’ one’s fate”.

He added: “If obesity is treated in a timely fashion, its complications can be prevented.”

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Prof Turchin said that while it is known that carrying excess weight increases the risk of various illnesses, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, studies have been unclear on how the length of time a person had been obese was a factor.

He said the findings are important as they show that the sooner a younger person is treated for obesity, the better their health outcomes will be.

The team looked at data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study – both based in the US.

It comprised 109,259 women and 27,239 men who had an average age of 48.6 years and a body mass index (BMI) of 27 at the start of the study.

The team focused on those who had a BMI greater than 25 – at least once over a 10-year period, between 1990 and 1999.

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Their aim was to understand how a person’s weight impacted their risk of heart attack or stroke over the next 20 years (2000-2020).

Over the course of the study period, 6,862 saw a build-up of arterial plaque and 3,587 had type 2 diabetes while 65,101 people said they had a history of smoking.

A follow-up in 2020 revealed there were 12,048 cardiovascular events – such as heart attacks, stroke or related deaths – across both groups.

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