Being overweight changes heart health in young people

31 July 2018        

Category: Research

Increased weight in young adults causes higher blood pressure and a thickening of the heart muscle, according to research part-funded by us the University of Bristol and published in Circulation.

Using data and participants from Bristol’s Children of the 90s study, this is the first time that body mass index (BMI) – an internationally recognised index of weight for height – has been shown likely to have a causal link to detailed measures of cardiovascular health in a population of young, healthy people.

Fat cells microscope slide

Researchers first looked the relationship between BMI and routinely collected cardiovascular measures, such as blood pressure and heart rate, in more than 3000 17-year olds.  Then they worked with more than 400 21-year old participants (again from the Children of the 90s study), to undertake detailed cardiovascular scans in those who had differences in their BMI which could be anticipated by genetic data.  

Using a variety of methods, researchers were able to conclude that variation in BMI is likely to be causally linked to differences in cardiovascular health in young age. Until now, most studies have looked at the association between BMI and cardiovascular health in adults and have used traditional approaches that suffer from limitations, which authors attempted to overcome with their study design and with access to the unique opportunity in Children of the 90s.

Chris Allen, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the research, said:
“Being overweight or obese causes increased blood pressure and damaging changes to the structure of the heart, which increases the risk of heart problems. This research makes it clear that it is never too early to start thinking about your heart health, as being an unhealthy weight can damage the structure of your heart, even in early adulthood.
“Maintaining a healthy weight at any stage of life, gives you the best chance of a healthy heart and circulation in later life.