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Heart Disease

Understanding the relationship between obesity and the heart

Every 40 seconds, someone experiences a heart attack or stroke.1,2 These incidents - commonly referred to as cardiovascular events - are now the leading cause of death in society today.The good news is, four out of five cardiovascular deaths are preventable, and weight is an important factor in keeping the heart healthy.4,5

Is there a link between obesity and cardiovascular events?

More than 80% of people experiencing a heart attack or stroke live with overweight or obesity.Excessive and impaired body fat tissue can cause inflammation in the blood vessels that lead to the heart, causing a heart attack.7 Stiff arteries_can also increase the risk of blood clots that travel to the brain, causing a stroke. This process is known as atherosclerosis.

plague (fatty tissue)

Atherosclerosis involves the gradual build-up of fatty tissue (plaque) inside your artery. Eventually, the plaque can rupture and trigger a blood clot.8

Factors that increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis, such as elevated levels of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, can also be linked with obesity.9 

Unfortunately, 50% of people who have had a heart attack or stroke will experience another one in their lifetime,10 resulting in people having to live with fear, pain or reduced physical ability, and in the most serious of cases, even death.

Fortunately, the risk of death for cardiovascular events is lessened due to more effective ways of identifying and managing the risk factors early.3,11 In fact, today, 80% of deaths caused by heart attack and stroke are preventable,5 and most preventable deaths originate from cardiovascular conditions that can be caused by overweight and obesity.3,12

How significant is weight loss to reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke?

Research shows that people who lose 10% or more of their body weight reduce their risk of a non-fatal heart attack or stroke by to 24%.13 This is because weight loss improves blood pressure and reduces blood lipids, preventing the hardening of arteries and the formation of blood clots.

Even losing 5% body weight can benefit the heart. Did you know that losing 5% body weight (typically around 3-5 kilograms for people with a BMI of 30) can improve sleep length and quality? There are many other health benefits to 5% - 15% weight loss, explore other articles to find out more.

How does losing weight improve your health?

See how losing 13% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing certain obesity-related complications.

For most people living with obesity, losing 10% body weight is difficult to achieve without support. While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment plan, the first step for anyone wanting to lose weight is to consult with a doctor

Your doctor may talk you through several weight management options. In the first instance, they may want to take a deeper look at your diet and exercise routine, although, like many people living with obesity, you may feel that you have been on a diet for most of your life! There are several other treatment plans your doctor may explore. These can include:

  • Behavioural therapy: partnering with a psychologist to identify patterns, thoughts and emotions that can lead to weight gain and prevent weight loss
  • Weight loss medications: prescribed medication from your doctor that influences the biological processes of your body and brain
  • Bariatric surgery: changing your gastric system through surgery, to lower your appetite and encourage changes to your metabolic system

The most important thing to remember when starting a weight loss journey is that you are not alone. 764 million adults live with obesity globally and by 2030, this number is projected to rise to over 1 billion.14  If you would like to discuss different weight management treatments, you can find your nearest weight management specialist below.


  • 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Stroke Facts. 2022. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm. Last accessed September 2022
  • 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart Disease Facts. 2022. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Last accessed September 2022.
  • 3.World Health Organization (WHO). Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) factsheet. 2022. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds). Last accessed September 2022.
  • 4. Arnett D, Blumenthal R, Albert M et al. 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2019; 140:e596–e646.
  • 5.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transcript for VitalSigns Teleconference: Preventing 1 Million Heart Attacks and Strokes. 2018. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/t0906-vital-signs-preventing-heart-attacks-strokes.html#:~:text=About%2080%20percent%20of%20deaths,management%20of%20common%20medical%20conditions. Last accessed September 2022
  • 6.De Bacquer D, Jennings C, Mirrakhimov, E  et al. Potential for optimizing management of obesity in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Eur Heart J Qual Care Clin Outcomes. 2022;8:568-576.
  • 7.Lopez-Jimenez F, Almahmeed W, Bays H. et al, 2022. 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,.Atherosclerosis: Causes, Symptoms, Risks and Tests. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16753-atherosclerosis-arterial-disease. Last accessed: September 2022
  • 8.American Heart Association. Atherosclerosis. 2020. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/about-cholesterol/atherosclerosis . Last accessed September 2022
  • 9.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
  • 10.Joseph J, Deedwania P, Acharya T, et al. Comprehensive Management of Cardiovascular Risk Factors for Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2022;145:e722–e759
  • 11.Eurostat. Preventable and treatable mortality statistics. 2022. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Preventable_and_treatable_mortality_statistics#Leading_causes_of_avoidable_deaths. Last accessed September 2022
  • 12. Look AHEAD Research Group. Association of the magnitude of weight loss and changes in physical fitness with long-term cardiovascular disease outcomes in overweight or obese people with type 2 diabetes: a post-hoc analysis of the Look AHEAD randomised clinical trial. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2016;4(11):913–921.
  • 13.World Obesity. World Obesity Atlas 2022. Available at: https://www.worldobesity.org/resources/resource-library/world-obesity-atlas-2022. Last accessed: September 2022
  • 14.Atherosclerosis: Causes, Symptoms, Risks and Tests. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16753-atherosclerosis-arterial-disease. Last accessed: September 2022

Find your local weight management provider

Talk to your weight management provider about treatment options that could prevent the weight you lose from coming back.

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