Obesity and Heart Health

Understand how obesity affects heart health and how to manage it.

In the US, obesity is a common disease with increasing prevalence. The latest CDC data suggests that over 42% of US adults are living with obesity — a 12% increase from 2000.1

Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a simple and inexpensive measurement that expresses a person’s weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters. Though it doesn’t encompass the full picture of someone’s health or even their body fat, it is commonly used by researchers and healthcare professionals as a screening tool. Obesity is a complex disease, so it’s important to understand its nuances and risk factors.

How obesity impacts heart health

Obesity presents its own set of risk factors, and many of these are related to its negative impact on heart health. Obesity can affect the heart in the following ways:

Cholesterol levels

Obesity may change cholesterol levels, causing an increase in triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood) and bad cholesterol (LDL) while also reducing good cholesterol (HDL). These changes may increase your risk of heart disease.2


The largest risk factor for type 2 diabetes is obesity. And for those with a BMI higher than 35, the risk of developing diabetes is 93% higher. In women, having diabetes doubles the risk of developing heart disease.3

Blood pressure

Obesity may cause increased blood pressure (hypertension), which is a common cause of heart attack.2

Heart failure

Johns Hopkins researchers have found that for every five-point increase in BMI, the risk of heart failure rises by 32%.4

Managing obesity

Some families are more predisposed to obesity than others, and obesity tends to follow patterns of socioeconomic status.1 While many factors contributing to obesity are difficult to control, there are a few important strategies to consider in order to manage obesity and improve heart health:

Diet modifications

Making simple switches in food choices can aid in weight loss and help protect the heart. Adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet can not only reduce calories, but also provide important nutrients. Opting for low-fat protein sources and whole grains is also a great heart-healthy choice.5 Many people work with a doctor or nutritionist to create a specific diet plan that fits their needs, but even taking small steps like recording food in a journal can help in staying mindful and making intentional eating choices.

Incorporating regular exercise

Busy schedules and pricey gym fees can make the idea of exercising feel daunting, but it’s important to remember that every small increase in movement helps. Parking further from the grocery store entrance, taking the stairs, or going on a 10-minute walk during your lunch break all add up to make a positive impact. There are also free at-home workouts online, and some gyms with affordable monthly fees offer qualified trainers to help you get started.

Monitoring heart health

While some warning signs of heart failure can only be detected in a lab, others are easy to keep an eye on at home. Staying mindful of fatigue and shortness of breath can help in detecting early signs of heart injury. It’s also helpful to monitor for an irregular heartbeat, like atrial fibrillation, and other abnormal patterns from home using a device like a KardiaMobile personal EKG.

Bariatric surgery

In some cases, doctors suggest undergoing bariatric surgery to aid in weight loss and benefit overall health as a result. The process of surgery entails monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol beforehand, leaving sufficient time for recovery, and eating a protein-heavy diet after surgery to ensure muscle health.2

There are various paths available to help reduce the impact of obesity not only on heart health, but overall health as well. Those managing the disease should work with their doctor to choose the best option for their own health and lifestyle.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/da...
  2. https://www.pennmedicine.org/u...
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p...
  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.or...
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/dis...