Obesity and Sudden Cardiac Death in Women

We’ve believed that the dangers of overweight and obesity were highest in midlife and beyond.  A new study of young adult women now suggests that early-adulthood obesity may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death.


A re-analysis of data from the well-known Nurse’s Health Study showed that women who were overweight or obese at the beginning of the study showed an elevated risk of sudden cardiac death throughout the entire study period. Furthermore, researchers also found that weight gain in early-to-mid adulthood was associated with greater risk of sudden cardiac death regardless of BMI (body mass index) at age 18.  So even being slim in your younger adult years did not seem protective in this study.


The study began when the participants were age 18.  In following over 72,000 women, researchers documented 445 cases of sudden cardiac death, 1,286 cases of fatal coronary heart disease and 2,272 non-fatal heart attacks. Women with a higher BMI during adulthood showed a greater risk of sudden cardiac death – even among those who were not obese, but merely overweight.


The study certainly has limitations: because of the observational nature of the study, we can’t determine a definite cause/effect relationship between obesity and sudden cardiac death.  Also, most of the women studied were predominantly educated white women, so it is hard to know if the results are applicable to other socioeconomic and racial groups.  My take though is that educated white women often have better health due to better access to resources – so I suspect that the data may be even more worrisome in other ethnicities, such as our diverse population in Hawaii.


Bottom line though is we need to do everything we can to keep our weight under control throughout our entire adult life.  Being slim as teens does not seem to be protective, and clearly cardiac disease is not just a men’s issue.


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