Even a tiny bit of flab raises heart failure risk

WASHINGTON Mon Dec 22, 2008 4:11pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Even a little bit of extra weight can raise the risk of heart failure, according to a U.S. study published on Monday that calculated the heart hazards of being pudgy but not obese.

It comes as little surprise that obesity makes a person much more apt to get heart failure, a deadly condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood throughout the body.

But researchers who tracked the health of 21,094 U.S. male doctors for two decades found that even those who were only modestly overweight had a higher risk -- and it grew along with the amount of extra weight.

In men who are 5 feet 10 inches tall, for every seven pounds (3.2 kg) of excess body weight, their risk of heart failure rose on average by 11 percent over the next 20 years, the researchers wrote in the journal Circulation.

The average age of the men at the outset of the so-called Physicians' Health Study was 53. During the study, 1,109 of them developed heart failure.

Overall, the risk of heart failure increased by 180 percent in men who met the definition of obesity according to their body mass index (BMI of 30 and higher), and by 49 percent in men who met the definition of overweight (a BMI of 25 to 30).

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, contributes to 300,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Conditions such as coronary artery disease and high blood pressure can leave the heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump blood efficiently.

Dr. Satish Kenchaiah of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and colleagues also looked at how physical activity affected heart failure risk.

"The lean and active group had the lowest risk and the obese and inactive group had the highest risk," Kenchaiah said in a telephone interview.

"As far as vigorous physical activity is concerned, even if somebody said they exercised one to three times per month -- which is a very low level of exercise -- they had an 18 percent reduction in the risk of heart failure after accounting for all other established risk factors," Kenchaiah added.

The benefit of exercise in cutting heart failure risk was seen in lean, overweight and obese men, the researchers found. But regardless of the level of activity, higher body mass index also meant higher heart failure risk.

(Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Xavier Briand)

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