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Impact of BMI on the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Death

There may be no "safe" level of extra poundage after all. Until recently, some studies suggested that overweight people with normal biochemical markers such as cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure might not need to lose weight, because they weren't at greater risk of heart disease than those of normal weight. However, this new study is well designed, large and long, examining over 1700 middle-aged men over 30 years, and it suggests otherwise.

The men were divided into groups based on BMI and metabolic indicators, both of which are general indicators of health and fitness. Some of the men had normal profiles and others had a collection of symptoms and conditions known as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is the result of having high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high blood fats, and low levels of the "good" cholesterol, HDL. People with metabolic syndrome are at significantly higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

The researchers discovered that, unsurprisingly, being overweight and having metabolic syndrome was the most dangerous combination in terms of the risk of heart disease by the time these men turned 80. However, the new and unexpected finding was that men who were overweight and had perfectly normal metabolic profiles were still at significantly greater risk (52% higher) of developing heart disease. Obese men with normal metabolic profiles had a 95% higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

This study did not examine exercise practices among the participants. However, since exercise usually plays a major role in normalising our metabolic profiles, these results further underline the dangers of overweight, with or without regular activity, in terms of the risk of serious diseases.

At the same time, the researchers caution against assigning one single cause to either overweight or to developing disease. Tim Church, M.D., Ph.D., the director of Preventive Medicine Research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana says, "The fit or fat issue has unbelievable levels of complexity. You can't just say being overweight is unhealthy. Nothing is that simple."

The conclusion we can draw from these results is that if you are overweight, even if you have perfect blood markers for health and fitness, you should probably try to lose those extra pounds.

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