Young Adults who Maintain Their Weight, Even if Overweight, Have Lower Risk Factor Levels for Heart Disease in Early Middle Age
New Orleans, Louisiana Young adults who maintain their
weight over time, even if they are overweight, have lower risk factor
levels for heart disease and are less likely to develop metabolic
syndrome in middle age than those whose weight increases, according
to the results of a large multi-center study funded by the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health
and presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.
Metabolic syndrome is a clustering of risk factors that increases
a person's risk of heart disease. After 15 years, only 3.6 percent
of the study participants who had maintained their weight had developed
metabolic syndrome, compared to 18 percent of those whose weight
"Young U.S. adults have a major problem with weight gain
during these years. The minimum goal for every young adult is to
try to prevent weight gain, even if he or she is overweight,"
said NHLBI Acting Director Barbara Alving, M.D.
The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study
followed over 5,000 men and women for 15 years. Selection of study
participants who were initially aged 18 to 30 was balanced for sex,
race, and education. CARDIA evaluated participants at four clinical
centers in Birmingham, AL, Chicago, IL, Minneapolis, MN and Oakland,
CA. This study included data for 2,475 adults who attended every
exam but excluded those who were underweight or very obese at the
start of the study.
The study examined the relationship over time between weight and
several cardiovascular disease risk factors: high blood pressure,
high glucose (sugar) levels which can indicate risk for diabetes,
high triglyceride levels, low levels of good cholesterol, and a
large waist. Metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least 3
of these risk factors.
Investigators found that on average as body mass index, an indicator
of obesity, increased, adverse changes in these cardiovascular disease
risk factors occurred. Over the 15 years of the study, these changes produced substantial
differences in risk factor levels.
Normal-weight men who maintained their weight had only a 1 mg/dL
rise per year in triglycerides (harmful fat in the blood) compared
to a 4 mg/dL per year increase in those who had gained weight. After
15 years, that translates into a total increase in triglycerides
of 60 versus 15 mg/dL in those who gained compared with those who
maintained stable weight. Normal weight women showed almost no increase
in triglyceride levels when they maintained their weight, compared
to an almost 2 mg/dL rise per year for those whose weight had increased.
Of the adults studied, more than 80 percent had gained weight over
the years and had negative changes in heart disease risk factors,
compared to 18 percent who had maintained their current weight and
showed no significant change in risk factors for heart disease.
"Regardless of whether you are overweight or normal weight
in young adulthood, it's really important, at a minimum, not to
gain any more weight. That's a critical part of the message,"
said Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M. CARDIA investigator and assistant
professor of preventive medicine and of medicine at Northwestern
University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Weight stabilization
may be easier to achieve than significant weight loss for many people,
and there are clear benefits to maintaining stable weight,"
he concluded. Lloyd-Jones presented the results at the AHA's annual
"The best approach for maintaining weight is to ensure that
one's physical activity level is high enough to balance the number
of calories consumed," said Catherine Loria, Ph.D., a nutritionist
and epidemiologist with NHLBI.
To interview Dr. Loria, contact the NHLBI Communications Office
at (301) 496-4236 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To interview Dr. Lloyd-Jones, contact Elizabeth Crown at (312)
503-8928 or at email@example.com.
For more information and tips on maintaining weight:
Aim for a Healthy Weight Website: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/patmats.htm
NHLBI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Federal
Government's primary agency for biomedical and behavioral research.
NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NHLBI press releases and other materials including information about
heart disease, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol are
available online at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.