In a new study from the University of Bristol in the UK, researchers find that even as a young adult, being overweight may cause higher blood pressure and thicker heart muscle.
These could set the stage for heart disease later in life.
While previous studies suggest associations between risk factors or lifestyle behaviors and heart disease, they cannot prove cause-and-effect.
In the current study, the researchers triangulated findings from three different types of genetic analysis to uncover evidence that BMI causes specific differences in cardiovascular measurements.
They used data on several thousand healthy 17-year-olds and 21-year-olds who have participated in the ongoing Children of the 90s study since they were born in the Bristol area of the United Kingdom.
They found that higher BMI caused higher systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure and that higher BMI caused enlargement of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber.
Thickening of vessel walls is widely considered to be the first sign of atherosclerosis, a disease in which fatty plaques build up within the arteries and lead to heart disease.
However, their findings suggest that higher BMIs cause changes in the heart structure of the young that may precede changes in blood vessels.
Their results support efforts to reduce body mass index to within a normal, healthy range from a young age to prevent later heart disease.
The study is the first to explore if higher body mass index (BMI) – a weight-for-height index – results in adverse effects on the cardiovascular system in young adults.
In the near future, the researchers plan to investigate the relationship between higher BMI and other possible disease mechanisms, such as the abundance and diversity of microbes living in the gut.
They also hope to explore the relationship between BMI and cardiac structure and function in a population now in their 70s.
Kaitlin H. Wade, B.Sc., Ph.D., is the lead author of the study and a research associate at the Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol Medical School in the United Kingdom.
Co-authors are Scott T. Chiesa, Ph.D.; Alun D. Hughes, Ph.D.; Nish Chaturvedi, M.D.; Marietta Charakida, M.D.; Alicja Rapala, B.A.; Vivek Muthurangu, M.D.; Tauseef Khan, Ph.D.; Nicholas Finer, M.B., B.S.; Naveed Sattar, M.D., Ph.D.; Laura D. Howe, M.Sc., Ph.D.; Abigail Fraser, M.P.H., Ph.D.; Debbie A. Lawlor, Ph.D.; George Davey Smith, M.D., D.Sc.; John E. Deanfield, B.Ch.MB; and Nicholas J. Timpson, Ph.D. The authors reported no disclosures.
The Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, and British Heart Foundation funded the study.
The study is published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
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