NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Heart attacks occur earlier in people who are overweight or obese, compared with normal-weight people, new research indicates.
"Obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature heart attacks," senior investigator Dr. Peter A. McCullough told Reuters Health. "Since two thirds of Americans have excess body fat we expect an explosion in the rates of heart attacks among women in their 40s and 50s."
"The implications for these Americans who are in their peak earning years," he continued, "include the need for hospitalization, cardiac procedures, the development of heart failure, medical disability, and premature death."
McCullough of William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan and colleagues took a look back at more than 111,000 patients who suffered a heart attack.
They found that the average age at first heart attack was 74.6 years in the leanest patients and 58.7 years in the most obese. "Women were predominant in both the leanest and most obese groups," the investigators found.
After accounting for factors that might influence the results, the researchers determined that compared to study subjects with a normal body mass index (BMI between 18.6 and 25.0), subjects who were overweight (BMI between 25.1 and 30.0) had a first heart attack some 3.5 years earlier.
Obese individuals (BMI between 30.1 and 35.0) had a first heart attack 6.8 years earlier than normal-weight subjects and for severely obese individuals (BMI greater than 40) it was 12.0 years.
This study, McCullough concluded, "should be a wake-up call to all individuals who have gained weight since age 18 to re-evaluate their lifestyles and take immediate action to bring body weight down into the normal range."
SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, September 16, 2008.