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Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease in  Women

More than one-third of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Being obese increases the risk for many diseases, especially heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

What is considered obese?

Obesity can be determined based on 2 key measurements, according to NHLBI:

  • Body mass index (BMI). BMI is your weight relative to your height, including considerations such as amount of bone, muscle, and fat in your body's composition. If your BMI calculation is 25.0 or higher, you are considered overweight. A BMI over 30 is considered obese. BMI may overestimate the degree of obesity in those people who are overweight but may have significant muscle mass, like people who are very fit and build muscle with strength training. BMI may underestimate the amount of body fat in older people who have lost muscle mass but his or her weight stays stable.

  • Waist circumference. Your waist circumference indicates abdominal fat. A waist circumference over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women as measured at the top level of the hip bones increases the risk for heart disease and other diseases. There is some variability in risk depending on your ethnic background.

What are the risk factors for heart disease in women?

According to the American Heart Association, the major risk factors for heart disease are:

  • Age (65 years and older)

  • Heredity

  • Post-menopausal women

  • Smoking

  • High blood cholesterol levels

  • High blood pressure

  • Physical inactivity

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes

  • Stress

Obviously, some of these risk factors, such as age, gender, or heredity, cannot be changed. However, it is possible to make lifestyle changes which may decrease the risk of factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, or obesity.

Healthy tips for losing weight

Successful weight loss requires a long-term weight management program that is realistic. To help lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, consider the following:

  • Set realistic goals. Do not focus only on the actual weight loss, but look at dietary and exercise changes that will help to keep weight off. In addition, goals should be:

    • Specific (Example: "I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 weeks," not "I'd like to lose a few pounds.")

    • Attainable (Example: "I want to lose 5 pounds this month" is more realistic than "I want to lose 20 pounds this month.")

    • Forgiving (Example: "I only lost 3½ pounds this month instead of 5 pounds. But, you know what? My pants are starting to feel a little looser! I'll try again to lose more weight next month.")

  • Set short-term goals that lead to long-term goals. Short-term goals are small steps that are easier to achieve and will help position you toward attaining your long-term goals. (Example: A goal of losing 5 pounds per month is realistic, in most cases, and will help lead you to a long-term goal of losing a larger amount.)

  • Reward yourself. Effective rewards are those that are timely, contingent on your goal achievement, and something valuable to you. Rewards, however, should not include food. (Example: When you meet a goal, reward yourself with a new book, a short weekend vacation, a new outfit, tickets to a concert or ball game, or other non-food item which makes you happy.)

  • Monitor yourself. Keep track of your progress by keeping a record of what you eat, how often you exercise, and your weight on a regular basis. This way you can better evaluate your rate of success in losing weight and make adjustments where needed. Don't get frustrated if your weight doesn't change even though you have been eating better and exercising. Standard bathroom scales don't measure the differences in bone, muscle, and body fat. Your weight may be stable, but you can be losing fat and gaining muscle with consistent healthy eating and exercise.

  • Avoid situations that cause you to overeat. By avoiding certain situations or settings that you associate with eating, you can often break the habit of overeating, such as not eating while watching television.

  • Eat slower. Eating slower gives your body time to recognize that you have been fed. Also, schedule your meals at regular times, so that you will not skip or delay a meal, and overeat later to compensate.

  • Working together. Having a partner or friend participate in the same weight loss program can increase both of your changes of success through accountability and support.

  • Get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep allows your tissues and your mind to recover from the stress of the day. If you are not getting enough sleep, you could feel tired and worn down. This can affect your desire and motivation to be active.

Facts about cholesterol and obesity

The link between high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol) in the blood and increased risk of coronary heart disease has been demonstrated many times. Although normal-weight people can have high LDL cholesterol levels, people who are overweight tend to have higher LDL cholesterol levels than people who are not overweight. Blood cholesterol levels are affected by:

  • Diet. Excessive consumption of saturated fats, especially trans fats, dietary cholesterol, and excess calories can adversely affect blood cholesterol levels.

  • Weight. Obesity can increase LDL cholesterol levels and decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (often referred to as the "good" cholesterol).

  • Physical activity. Lack of physical activity can increase LDL cholesterol levels and decrease (HDL) cholesterol.

  • Heredity. Genetic background can determine the production and processing of cholesterol in your body.

  • Age. Blood cholesterol levels increase after age 20.

  • Gender. Until menopause, women tend to have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men. After menopause, a woman's LDL cholesterol levels rise, increasing the risk for heart disease.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kang, Steven, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Snyder, Mandy, APRN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2018
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