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Being overweight when you’re young increases heart disease risk

According to a new report published by the American Heart Association, extra weight in young adults can cause heart disease later in life by raising blood pressure and thickening heart muscle.

This study is the first to investigate the impacts that higher body mass index (BMI) can have on the cardiovascular system of young adults. Using three different types of genetic analysis, the researchers found evidence that BMI causes specific differences in cardiovascular measurements.

Study lead author Dr. Kaitlin H. Wade is a research associate at the Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol Medical School.

“Our results support efforts to reduce body mass index to within a normal, healthy range from a young age to prevent later heart disease,” said Dr. Wade.

The experts used data that involved thousands of healthy 17- and 21-year-olds who are participants in the ongoing Children of the 90s study in the Bristol area of the United Kingdom.

The study linked higher BMI with higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure and with enlargement of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber.

“Thickening of vessel walls is widely considered to be the first sign of atherosclerosis, a disease in which fatty plaques build up within the arteries and lead to heart disease,” said Dr. Wade. “However, our findings suggest that higher BMIs cause changes in the heart structure of the young that may precede changes in blood vessels.”

Two of the analyses used in the research took advantage of the properties of genetic variation.

“At a population level, this provides a natural experiment analogous to a randomized trial where we can compare differences in an outcome (such as heart structure and function) with differences in BMI, without the relationship being skewed by other lifestyle and behavioral factors,” explained Dr. Wade.

The team now plans to investigate the relationship between higher BMI and other disease mechanisms, such as the microbial content of the gut.

The research is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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