BARCELONA — If you are looking for reasons to shed those extra pounds, how is this for motivation: While excess weight impacts men to a certain extent, overweight women are twice as likely to develop heart disease and four times as likely to develop cancer as women who are at a normal weight, a recent study shows.

Researchers with the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) conducted the largest-ever study regarding the influences of above-normal BMI on other health factors. They found that being overweight or obese dramatically raises the risk of developing heart disease and cancer, particularly in women.

Obese person walking
Women who are obese are five times more prone to cardiovascular disease and 12 times more likely to develop cancer than those of normal weight, a recent study found.

“Any increment in body mass above recommended levels supposes a proportional increase in the risk of adverse health events,” according to Dr. Maria Grau, one of the study’s authors and a researcher with IMIM’s Epidemiology and Cardiovascular Genetics group.

Researchers followed 54,446 participants Spain over a 10-year period. The study included men and women aged 35 to 79 with no previous history of cardiovascular diseases. Each participant’s BMI was measured at the beginning of the study for a baseline. Researchers analyzed data, looking at the relationship between BMI and both cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Data showed that almost half (46.5%) of participants were overweight while more than one-quarter (27.8%) were obese. The somewhat-shocking results were that just slightly more than one-quarter (25.7%) of participants were at a normal weight with a BMI of 25 or less.

But are these results surprising? Perhaps not, considering the World Health Organization’s estimate of obesity at 650 million people worldwide. It is a staggering number that has tripled since 1975.

Although obesity doubles a man’s risk of developing cancer, it is not an influential factor in his development of cardiovascular disease.

On the other hand, women who are obese are five times more prone to cardiovascular disease and 12 times more likely to develop cancer than those of normal weight. But even being overweight, without crossing the threshold into obesity, still doubles a woman’s risk of heart disease and raises her risk of developing cancer fourfold.

The study’s authors say they’re very concerned about the results of the study. “The improvements in cardiovascular risk factors achieved over the last 20 years are dramatically neutralized by the obesity epidemic,” says Dr. Jaume Marrugat, principal study investigator and director of IMIM’s Epidemiology and Public Health group, in a statement.

Marrugat says we must find ways to decrease obesity by promoting healthy diets, increasing physical activity and screening for diseases.

“No one is obese because they want to be,” adds Dr. Albert Goday, a study author and an endocrinologist at Hospital del Mar. “Obesity is a potentially serious medical condition that determines, in apparently healthy people, an increased risk of death from various causes.” He says obesity is about much more than appearance. Losing weight also lowers the risk of premature death.

Even a small weight reduction can make a big impact on health. Researchers say simply losing roughly 10 pounds in your 40s–and keeping it off–can reduce your risks of cardiovascular disease by 20%. For women, this also reduces your cancer risk by 20%.

Or as “Father of Medicine” Hippocrates once said, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

Study results were published in the Feb. 2018 edition of Preventive Medicine.

About Terra Marquette

Terra is a Denver-area freelance writer, editor and researcher. In her free time, she creates playlists for every mood.

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