Obesity Paradox: Obese Heart Patients Less Likely To Die
March 18, 2013

Could Obesity Help Prevent Heart-Related Deaths?

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Obese cardiac patients are actually less likely to die from their heart-related condition than those who maintain normal body weight, researchers from University College London claim in a new study.

According to Andrew Kincade of Examiner.com, the investigators studied 4,400 heart patients hailing from England and Scotland. They found that patients with cardiovascular issues who were clinically obese — having a body mass index (BMI) score of at least 30 — were less likely to die within a seven-year time span than their fitter counterparts.

“The study found that those who engaged in physical activity at least once a week and who did not smoke had a lower risk of dying, no matter their weight,” Kincade explained. “However, obese patients who did not exercise nor follow other healthy lifestyle recommendations still had a lower risk of death than their normal weight counterparts who smoked or did not exercise.”

Thirty-one percent of the patients who were analyzed as part of the study were considered obese, BBC News reported on Saturday. Those individuals were said to have been younger, but also in worse health overall.

Those individuals also had additional heart-related risk factors, including higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels, the researchers explained in the journal Preventive Medicine. Furthermore, even obese patients who did not follow medical recommendations for healthy living had a lower risk of death than normal weight patients who smoked or did not regularly exercise.

“We don't yet understand this paradox and we would clearly not advise patients to put on weight,” lead researcher Dr. Mark Hamer told the British news organization. “One of the more sensible explanations may be that when obese patients present to their doctor, they are given more aggressive treatment because they are seen as very high risk.”

“We do know, for example with cardiac rehabilitation, that the thing that absolutely works is exercise — that dramatically reduces risk even though you don't necessarily lose weight,” he added.

It is not the first time that the so-called “obesity paradox” — in which being overweight appears to lead to a better prognosis when it comes to cardiac related fatality rate — has been observed by researchers, the BBC said. In fact, previous work by Hamer´s team has also demonstrated that a percentage of obese patients are not at risk of heart disease and are in otherwise good health, despite being overweight.

“It seems contradictory that one of the risk factors for heart disease may improve survival rates,” June Davison, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said. “The reason for this link remains unclear, but it's possible that those with a higher BMI go to their doctor sooner and may be treated more aggressively.”

“Also, this study only measured BMI. When looking at health risk it's not only BMI that matters, but where fat is stored,” she added. “Carrying excess fat around the middle can produce toxic substances which can increase your health risk.”