What you need to know about obesity and heart disease risk.

What you need to know about obesity and heart disease risk.

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that are directly related to the presence of abdominal obesity. It is characterized by "insulin resistance," which is a prediabetic state and markedly increases the chance that you will develop coronary heart disease and/or diabetes. It is a very significant risk factor and calls for emergency preventive measures.

A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome requires the presence of any three of the following five factors:

  • Abdominal obesity. Waist 40 inches or greater in men, 35 inches or greater in women
  • Blood pressure over 130 systolic (first number) or 85 diastolic (second number)
  • Fasting blood triglycerides over 150
  • HDL cholesterol under 40 in men, 50 in women
  • Fasting blood sugar of 100 or higher (over 126 signifies diabetes)

The presence of metabolic syndrome can increase the risk of someone developing heart disease by five to ten times compared with that of individuals who have none of these characteristics. It also signifies an extremely high risk of developing diabetes. Diabetes not only makes developing CHD more likely, but also is associated with the development of eye problems, kidney problems, sexual dysfunction, neurological pain and poor circulation to the legs and brain. You want to prevent it, or reverse it if you can.

Rates of metabolic syndrome have been climbing rapidly, driven by the obesity epidemic. In 2002, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in all American adults was 24 percent, but there was a powerful effect of age. Men and women in their sixties and seventies had a nearly 45 percent rate of metabolic syndrome. So, not only is 66 percent of the U.S. population overweight, but by the age of 60, almost half will likely have a "toxic" form of obesity that is very closely linked with diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Still, if you or someone you know has metabolic syndrome, there is no reason to give up. Bad outcomes in individuals with metabolic syndrome or "prediabetes" can be prevented. In a three-year study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health in adults with obesity and prediabetes, with a simple program of exercise (30 minutes, 5 days a week) and weight loss (5 to 7 percent or roughly 10 to 15 pounds), participants' likelihood of developing diabetes dropped 58 percent over the course of the study. Whereas 29 percent of participants who did not exercise or lose weight developed diabetes over the three years, only 14 percent of those in the exercise group did.

EatingWell for a Healthy Heart Cookbook (2008)