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February 2019

Early Obesity Can Change Heart Structure

For overweight or obese teens and 20-somethings, those extra pounds may already be contributing to future heart problems. That’s according to a new study in the journal Circulation, one of the first to take a detailed look at how body mass index (BMI) affects heart structure and function in young adults.

Young overweight woman jogging outdoors

High BMI physically alters the heart

Study participants were evaluated at ages 17 and 21 based on their genetic profiles. Among these younger adults, higher BMI led not only to increased blood pressure, but to actual physical changes in the structure and thickness of the heart’s left ventricle, which pumps blood into the arteries. A thicker left ventricle is strongly linked to increased risk for heart disease and heart disease-related death.

Young people should take steps to keep their hearts healthy

The study’s authors pointed out that their findings support the idea of lowering your BMI earlier in life to prevent serious heart problems later on. The American Heart Association offers some good advice to help young adults lower their risk for heart disease:

  • Stay active. At least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise a week is ideal, but it’s OK to start slow and work up to that goal.

  • Don’t smoke. Even if you don’t smoke, secondhand smoke can greatly up your risk for heart disease.

  • See a healthcare provider. Your provider can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure and heart health, as well as offer tips on diet and exercise.

And no matter what your age, eating a diet that’s low in fat and sodium and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is a great way to lower your risk for heart disease.


Help your heart

The American Heart Association has more dietary tips.

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2018
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