Harvard Medical School Study Finds that Overweight, Obesity in Early Adulthood Increases Risk of Cardiac Death

by | Last updated Jun 17, 2023 | Published on Jan 27, 2016 | Healthcare News

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The obesity epidemic is considered one of the most serious health problems in the United States. Reports suggest that nearly two thirds of U.S. adults are at an unhealthy weight. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, about 67.6 million U.S. adults aged 25 and older are obese and an additional 65.2 million are overweight. This condition is directly linked to several other serious health conditions including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and respiratory problems. Family practice physicians can play a crucial role in helping to prevent the various risks faced by obese individuals. They can provide adequate guidance to better manage the symptoms and weight management issues, thereby reducing the risks of developing other chronic ailments. Obesity screening is a covered service and a medical billing company can help physicians with accurate medical coding for this service.

Medicare provides coverage for obesity screening and behavioral therapy as part of its preventive services. Obese Medicare beneficiaries can schedule one face-to-face visit every week for the first month with a qualified primary care physician. After this, Medicare offers coverage for one face-to-face visit every other week for the next 2-6 months. Medicare will pay for one face-to-face visit once-a-month for 7-12 months provided the patient/beneficiary achieves a weight reduction of at least 3kg (6.6 lbs) during the first six months.

A new study suggests that overweight or obesity throughout adulthood, particularly during early adulthood, may lead to an increased risk of sudden cardiac death. The study was conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the results were published in the Journal “JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology” on November 25, 2015.

Excess body weight or substantial weight gain throughout adulthood may have a significant cumulative impact on the risk of sudden cardiac death. As part of the study, researchers studied more than 72,000 healthy American women (data from the Nurses’ Health study) from 1980 to 2012. At the start of the study, women provided information about their height and weight at the age of 18 years. Questionnaires were given to evaluate the body mass index (BMI) of the participants every two years during the study period. Researchers examined the relation between body mass index (BMI) and weight gain and the sudden risk for sudden cardiac death from coronary heart disease and non-fatal heart attacks. The key findings of the study include:

  • During the study period, about 445 sudden cardiac deaths, 1,300 deaths from heart disease and nearly 2,300 nonfatal heart attacks were reported.
  • When compared to women with a healthy weight (BMI 21-23) during childhood, the risk of sudden cardiac death over the next two years was 1.5 times higher among those who were overweight (BMI 25-30) and about 2 times higher among those who were obese (BMI 30 or greater).
  • Women who happened to be overweight or obese at age 18 or at the start of the study experienced an increased risk of sudden cardiac death over the entire course of the study, regardless of whether they lost weight or not.
  • Women who put on large amounts of weight a few years later, in early-to-mid adulthood also were at higher risk of sudden cardiac death, regardless of their BMI at age 18. In fact, the risk was twice as high in women who gained 44 pounds or more during early to mid-adulthood.
  • Women with higher BMI were at heightened risk for suffering death from heart disease and for nonfatal heart attacks, but the link between weight and these risks was weaker compared with sudden cardiac death.

The study highlights the fact that the adverse effects of obesity on cardiac rhythm, in this particular case, sudden death risk, begin in early childhood. Hence, the study results underscore the need for earlier identification and treatment for this condition for high risk individuals.

Researchers claim that nearly three-quarters of all sudden cardiac deaths occur in patients not considered to be high-risk based on current guidelines. Experts in this area suggest that Americans need to pay more attention to warnings linking obesity to heart trouble. The potential effects of obesity on the heart include its influence in promoting diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and arrhythmias, as well as obstructive sleep apnea. Therefore, weight loss needs to be considered as one of the prominent factors and physical fitness must be emphasized for maximum risk reduction.

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