Obesity is killing America: Heart disease deaths related to weight have tripled since 1999

DALLAS — More people are dying of heart disease than ever — and obesity appears to be the main reason. Researchers working with the American Heart Association have found that obesity-related heart disease deaths have tripled between 1999 and 2020. Black Americans make up a majority of deaths compared to other racial groups, especially Black women.

“The number of people with obesity is rising in every country across the world. Our study is the first to demonstrate that this increasing burden of obesity is translating into rising heart disease deaths,” says lead study author and cardiologist Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, MD, a clinical lecturer at the William Harvey Research Institute in London, in an institutional media release. “This rising trend of obesity is affecting some populations more than others, particularly Black women.”

Adult obesity has remained an epidemic over the last two decades. According to the CDC, over 40 percent of Americans classify as obese today — a 10-percent jump from the last decade.

The new numbers come from researchers looking at data on factors that could contribute to obesity-related heart disease deaths. These ranged from differences in race, gender, and area of residence. They also analyzed data on 281,135 deaths in the past two decades where obesity was a contributing factor. Among the deaths, 43.6 percent were women.

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The major finding of the study was exposing the number of obesity-related cardiovascular disease deaths tripling from 2.2 per 100,000 population to 6.6 per 100,000 population between 1999 and 2020. Black individuals had the highest number of deaths than other racial and ethnic groups at 6.7 per 100,000 population. In other words, 19.8 percent of Black adults made up the death toll. Native Americans and Alaska Native adults made up the second and third highest groups, respectively.

Black women were most affected by obesity-related heart disease deaths. This was a stark contrast to what researchers found for other racial groups. In all other races and ethnicities, men were more likely to die from obesity-related heart disease than women.

“The trend of higher obesity-related cardiovascular death rates for Black women than men was striking and different from all other racial groups considered in our study,” says senior author Mamas A. Mamas, MD, D.Phil. a professor of Cardiovascular Medicine from Keele University in the United Kingdom.

Black adults living in cities showed higher rates of obesity-related heart disease deaths than Black adults living in rural towns. However, the opposite was true for all other races. Other than Black adults, rural residents showed higher rates of mortality than city dwellers.

According to Raisi-Estabaugh, one reason behind the high death toll among Black urban tenants is that they are more likely to live in low socioeconomic areas. Unlike other urban residents, Black people seem to not benefit from the increased access to health care and are more likely to face health inequalities.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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