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Heart Disease

Does obesity cause heart disease and how can you reduce your risk?

3 min. read

You may already know that checking measures such a blood pressure and cholesterol levels can be a good way to protect your health. But did you realise that living with obesity can actually increase the risk of heart disease? This article explains the link between obesity and heart disease and outlines how individuals living with overweight can reduce their risk of developing the disease.

What is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?

CVD is an umbrella term used to describe health problems that affect the heart or blood circulation. It is also known as heart disease. It includes conditions that narrow or block the blood vessels, such as heart attacks and stroke.

CVD is on the increase. The number of people living with CVD nearly doubled between 1990 and 2019 and it is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. Unfortunately, there is a proven link between obesity and CVD. Put simply, living with obesity can increase your risk of developing heart disease.

How is CVD and obesity connected?

You may already be aware that obesity can lead to the development of high blood sugar and raised levels of blood pressure and cholesterol. However, you may not have realised that these are all significant risk factors for CVD – if left untreated, they can potentially cause heart disease.

Why? There are two key reasons. High levels of fat in the body (known as adiposity) is known to cause a wide-range of cardiovascular abnormalities, such as increased heart rate, and raised pressure on the arteries in the heart. These abnormalities can all increase the risk of a CV event.

The second factor is hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) caused by a build-up of fatty material in the blood vessels. This restricts blood flow and increases the risk of blood clots and stroke (where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off).

The reality is that people living with overweight or obesity are at a greater risk of a CVD event. On a more positive note, most people can reduce their risk by making changes to their lifestyle.

How can you reduce your risk of CVD?

The good news is that making relatively small changes can help to reduce the risk of CVD. In fact, you may already be making some of these choices.

  • Many people understand the importance of keeping track of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can arrange for you to be tested on a regular basis. If your levels are above normal limits you may be offered medication or advised to make lifestyle changes
  • It is equally important to try and keep your weight within a healthy range. Even modest reductions in your weight can have a positive effect in terms of reducing the risk of CVD
  • You should also aim to increase your level of activity. Find something that you enjoy – brisk walking, dancing or football are all beneficial!
  • Quitting smoking is a healthy choice for everyone, as is keeping alcohol levels to within recommended limits

The sooner you start making changes, the better. The first step is to talk to your doctor.

Tips for making the most of your doctor’s appointment

  • Make a list of any questions and take notes during the appointment. Consider taking a friend or family member along for support
  • Explain that you are aware of the link between obesity and heart disease and concerned that you may be at risk. Ask what specific steps you can take to reduce your risk
  • If you are struggling to control your weight, explain that you need support
  • Be honest. There is no point pretending that everything is OK if you are finding it difficult to cope
  • If you do not understand something, say so! It is important to be clear about what you are being advised to do

What can I expect my doctor to do?

Depending on your individual circumstances, your doctor may discuss a range of different strategies. These include:

  • Regular monitoring of your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Make sure you understand what the results mean
  • Discussing lifestyle factors such as increasing levels of exercise, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake
  • Reviewing eating habits and agreeing a plan of healthy eating
  • Identifying and tackling behaviours that are preventing you from managing your weight. You may be referred to a specialist weight management provider or offered behavioural therapy
  • Discussing weight loss medications if appropriate
  • Discussing bariatric surgery (surgery to the gastric system) if appropriate

Help is at hand

You don’t have to face this alone. Support is available.

Check out the other articles on this website, many of which contain information on ways to protect your health.

You are more likely to succeed in controlling your weight if you can find a doctor who specialises in helping people living with obesity. Click on the link below to find local support.


  1. NHS (2023). Cardiovascular Disease. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cardiovascular-disease/. Last accessed April 2023
  2. WHO (2021) Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds). Last accessed: February 2023
  3. Global Burden of Cardiovascular Diseases and Risk Factors, 1990–2019. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 Dec.76(25)2982–3021. Doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.11.010
  4. Lindh M, Banefelt J, Fox K, et al. Cardiovascular event rates in a high atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk population: estimates from Swedish population-based register data. Eur Heart J Qual Care Clin Outcomes. 2019;1;5(3):225–232
  5. Lopez-Jimenez F, Almahmeed W, Bays H. et al. Obesity and cardiovascular disease: mechanistic insights and management strategies. A joint position paper by the World Heart Federation and World Obesity Federation. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2022. 29, 2218–2237. Doi:


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