Heavy men die earlier even with fewer risk factors

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Overweight middle-aged men may have a higher risk of heart problems and strokes and die earlier than their thinner peers even in the absence of some traditional risk factors, according to a Swedish study.

Some past research has suggested that when obese and overweight adults do not have the so-called metabolic syndrome, their risks of diabetes, heart disease and stroke are no higher than those of normal-weight people.

Metabolic syndrome refers to a collection of risk factors for diabetes and heart problems -- including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides (another type of blood fat). It is typically diagnosed when a person has three or more of those conditions.

But a study which followed 1,758 Swedish men for 30 years found overweight and obese men had increased risks of conditions including heart attack and stroke, even in the absence of metabolic syndrome.

Among all men without metabolic syndrome, those who were overweight were 52 percent more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, and other complications than normal-weight men were, while obese men had nearly double the risk. The findings are published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

“Our study shows that overweight (and) obese men without the metabolic syndrome are at higher risk” for heart disease, stroke, and other related conditions, said researcher Dr. Johan Arnlov, of Uppsala University.

“This is in contrast to some previous studies that have suggested that obesity in the absence of the metabolic syndrome is a ‘healthy’ condition.”

The study does, however, point out the added threat of having metabolic syndrome.

Obese men with metabolic syndrome had the highest risks, showing 2.5 times the risk of heart disease and stroke, and related conditions, and of death, during the study period compared to men of normal weight and free of metabolic syndrome at the outset.

Metabolic syndrome did negatively impact normal weight men as well. Those with the condition were 63 percent more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, and related conditions than their counterparts who were free of metabolic syndrome.

Arnlov said the findings suggest that weight loss should be a goal for heavy men, regardless of whether they have metabolic syndrome, as they faced increased risks.

Reporting by Amy Norton, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith