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Long-Term Obesity Increases Risk of Stroke and Heart Attack

Individuals under the age of 50 who’ve lived with obesity for a decade or more face an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, a new study has found.

While obesity, in general, is known to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, new research has found that the length of time during which an individual lives with obesity can significantly increase, or decrease, that risk.

The research, presented at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting this past weekend, found that for women under 50 and men under 65, having obesity over a 10-year period was associated with a 25-60% increase in the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“It is well established that people who have excess weight at any point in time have a greater risk of heart attacks and strokes,” said study author Alexander Turchin, M.D., M.S., the director of quality at the division of endocrinology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, in a news release. “What was not known was whether it matters for how long someone has been exposed to excess weight.”

Researchers — some of whom whom were from weight-loss drug maker Eli Lilly — used data from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) to find patients who had a body-mass index (BMI) greater than 25 kg/m2 at least once between 1990 and 1999. The scientists aimed to understand how their weight impacted their risk for heart attack or stroke over the following two decades.

They analyzed data from 109,259 women and 27,239 men who had an average age of 48.6 years and a BMI of 27.2 kg/m2 in 1990. Among the participants, 6,862 had atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, 3,587 had type 2 diabetes, and 65,101 had a history of smoking. When they followed up with the patients in 2020, a total of 12,048 cardiovascular events had occurred among them.

While the researchers found that living with obesity for 10 years impacted their risk more than the patients’ weight at any single point in time in 1990, they also found that obesity in women older than 50 and men older than 65 was not associated with an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.

The researchers say the findings underscore the need to treat obesity in young people swiftly and show that related complications can be prevented if obesity lasts only a short time.

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