Outlook: Obesity Epidemic

JULY 01, 2008
Susan Farley

Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, Rhode Island.

Obesity Side Effect Ups Risk for Heart Failure

One adverse effect of obesity—prolonged inflammation of heart tissue—can increase one's risk of heart failure. The large Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis included nearly 7000 people aged 45 to 84. Of the nearly 7000 people, 79 developed congestive heart failure; 35 of those people were obese (body mass index of 30 or greater). The obese participants had higher levels of key immune system proteins in the blood—markers associated with inflammation—than the nonobese participants. These proteins include C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, and interleukin-6, which, if levels are doubled, can lead to an 84% increased risk of heart failure. Other known factors for congestive heart failure such as race, age, sex, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, and family history were removed, and researchers found that the biggest predictor of heart failure was the presence of those inflammatory chemicals in the blood.

Reliance on Medication Will Not Lower Heart Risks

According to a new study, common statins and blood pressure drugs are not enough to prevent heart disease in overweight or obese patients. It is vital for this patient population to drop weight in order to cut the risk of heart disease. Recent trends in the number of overweight and obese Americans may lead to 2 results: (1) the current baby boomer generation will not live as long as their parents, and (2) the decline in cardiovascular disease deaths over the past half century may plateau and reverse.

In the large study of 6814 men and women aged 45 to 84, 60% to 85% were overweight and 30% to 50% were obese, depending on the demographic group. Researchers suggested that the recent obesity epidemic is more environmental than genetic, and the differences between white, black, and Hispanic groups are no longer significant—only Chinese- Americans demonstrated significantly less obesity at 5%. Whereas it was once believed that treating the risk factors could counterbalance the ill effects of obesity, that is no longer believed to be the case. It is interesting to note that the study participants had not yet had heart attacks; they did, however, have many of the markers that predict future cardiovascular distress. These markers remained in place regardless of the medications being taken for high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The study suggests that pills are not achieving the desired end point. Lifestyle changes and better food choices must be incorporated to make any real difference. The emphasis must be redirected to prevention, according to researchers.

Test May Diagnose "Obesity Virus"

A company, Obetech LLC, out of the Virginia Biosciences Development Center's (VBDC) incubation program developed a diagnostic test that determines the presence of adenovirus 36 (Ad-36), which has become known as the "obesity virus." This common cold virus triggers the rapid production of fat cells, leading to obesity. The blood test checks for Ad-36 antibodies and can confirm if a person has been infected with the virus. The test could predict future weight problems and perhaps explain unexpected weight gain. The company has partnered with Scandinavian Clinical Nutrition, a dietary supplement developer that can develop therapeutic antiviral technologies to complement Obetech's diagnostic. VBDC executive director David Lohr commented, "This joint venture will? offer a comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic package to consumers seeking solutions for virus-induced obesity."

Shorter Sleep Increases Risk for Obesity

A worldwide study linking the number of sleep hours to obesity is driving home the point that not getting enough sleep contributes to obesity. A literature review by British researchers found 17 studies on adults and 12 studies on children that met their inclusion criteria. The adult population samples included 604,509 participants globally, ranging in age from 15 to 102 years. Researchers discovered a consistent pattern that being a short sleeper is related to being obese, whether in childhood or adulthood.

It is well known that being overweight can lead to heart disease and diabetes, not to mention increase the likelihood of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA can disrupt sleep several times throughout the night, can result in daytime sleepiness, as well as increase one's risk for stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. This creates a vicious cycle for an obese person who is also a poor sleeper. Half of all loud snorers have OSA, which happens when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses, blocks the airway, and prevents air from getting to the lungs. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) offers the following guidelines on the amount of sleep a person needs, depending on age:

Sleep needed

Infants 3-11 months

14-15 hours

Toddlers 2-3 years

12-14 hours

Preschool children 4-5 years

11-13 hours

School-aged children 6-10 years

10-11 hours

Adolescents 11-17 years

9 hours

Adults 18+

7-8 hours

Tips on Sleeping Better from the AASM
  • Follow a consistent bedtime routine
  • Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and stimulants prior to bedtime
  • Do not stay up too late studying or working
  • Keep computers and TVs out of bedroom
  • Do not go to bed hungry but do not eat a big meal either
  • Avoid rigorous exercise within 6 hours of bedtime
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and slightly cool
  • Get up at the same time every morning

AASM = American Academy of Sleep Medicine.