It is well established that high blood pressure and high cholesterol put a person at risk for illness. Now, a new study shows that people who are obese in middle age -- even those with good cholesterol and blood pressure levels -- are at increased risk of sickness or death from heart disease or diabetes in old age. This means obesity itself is a risk factor for these illnesses, even if the person otherwise appears healthy.
Physician Robert Kushner is an obesity specialist at the University of Chicago. He has heard this question from some of his patients.
He said, "If everything is okay regarding my blood sugar, my cholesterol, and my blood pressure, does my weight really make a difference?"
The answer is yes, according to new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association led by Lijing Yan of Peking University and Northwestern University in Chicago.
She said, "Even for those who did not have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, but who were overweight or obese in middle age, they were at much higher risk of being hospitalized for heart disease or diabetes or even dying from it in older age."
Yan's team studied the health histories of more than 17,000 Chicago residents whose health had been tracked for about 30 years. They found a connection between overweight and obesity in middle age and hospitalization and death after age 65.
Compared to people of normal weight, obese people had four times more risk of being hospitalized later in life for heart disease. Their risk of death from diabetes was up to 11 times greater.
"One reason could be that even for those people who didn't have those risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol early in life, but who were overweight or obese, they could have developed those risk factors over time before they reached older age and that could definitely play a role."
Yan says her study is one more reason for people to pay more attention to their weight.
She said, "Every pound [kilogram] that you put on really does rob you later on in life of health, as well as chances are you're going to be hospitalized more and perhaps even dying sooner."