Researchers bust fatty myth in massive cardiovascular study

The study showed that a high BMI – and not the presence of metabolic disorders – is the primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease

Until now, doctors and scientists have assumed that merely being obese or overweight alone doesn't increase the risk of developing heart disease.

But a new Danish research project has documented that weight factors alone bear the brunt of responsibility when it comes to obese people’s risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Doctors previously believed that the risk of cardiovascular disease first becomes serious when coupled with metabolic disorders, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. This led overweight people to believe that they were safe health-wise as long as they didn’t have any metabolic disorders.

READ MORE: Health minister: Months-long waiting times for heart exams "not acceptable"

It's all about the BMI
The results of the four-year-study clearly indicate that overweight people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 25 and 30, and obese people with a BMI of over 30, have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, whether they have metabolic disorders or not.

“Our study shows that the metabolic disorders only increased the cardiovascular disease risk a little bit. The central issue was clearly being overweight,” Børge Nordestgaard, one of the study’s researchers and a clinical professor at the University of Copenhagen and Herlev Hospital, said.

The study, which has been published in the science periodical JAMA Internal Medicine, could have massive implications, according to Nordestgaard.

“We’ve seen a reduction of many factors that increase cardiovascular disease, such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. But our study shows that we haven’t come to terms with another important risk factor: obesity,” Nordestgaard told science website, “If we don’t do something about it, our study shows that we can expect an explosion of cardiovascular diseases in the future.”

READ MORE: Scientists make ground-breaking malaria discovery

Over 71,500 participants
The new research was built upon the Herlev-Østerbro study (HØS), where doctors monitor and study a large group of Danes on an annual basis.

HØS participants have had their height, weight and girth measured, along with their blood pressure, blood fat, blood sugar and cholesterol.

The researchers divided the HØS participants into six groups based on weight and the presence of metabolic disorders. Using this method, Nordestgaard's study followed more than 71,500 Danes over the past four years.

“It’s the biggest single study of its kind ever done and its size alone is unique for Denmark,” Nordestgaard said.

READ MORE: Researchers make hydrogen fuel cell breakthrough

An epidemic on the horizon
When the researchers combined the HØS with the national patient registry, Landspatientregistret, they could see which HØS participants had been hospitalised with cardiovascular diseases or had died from cardiovascular ailments like heart attacks and blood clots.

Nordestgaard, who co-authored the study with another doctor, Mette Thomsen, argued that the results show that society and political leaders have their work cut out for them if they are to avoid an obesity and cardiovascular disease epidemic in the future.

“It’s important that society prioritises every initiative that can hinder a cardiovascular boom,” Nordestgaard argued. “And not being aware of the risks is no excuse. If you’re overweight, you are at an increased risk. It’s as simple as that.”