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Drugs Alone Don't Lower Heart Disease Risks for Overweight Americans

Study finds signs of trouble show up even when statins, blood pressure meds are used

MONDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- Daily doses of statins and blood pressure medications will not be enough to prevent heart disease among the ever-growing number of Baby Boomers who are overweight or obese, a new study suggests.

The simple truth, experts say, is that pounds must also be shed to keep cardiovascular trouble away.

"There is a debate out there about whether this generation is going to live as long as their parents, and the truth is they probably won't," said study author Dr. Gregory L. Burke, director of the division of public health sciences at Wake Forest University School of medicine in Winston-Salem, NC.

"My ultimate worry is that we've seen a 50-year decline in cardiovascular disease mortality, but if you begin to look at recent trends, it's beginning to plateau," he added. "And my fear is that because of the increase in obesity we're going to begin to see a reversal of that trend where heart disease rates begin to go up."

The research involving 6,814 men and women aged 45 to 84 revealed an even greater prevalence of overweight and obesity than shown in similar studies done five years earlier. Depending on the demographic group, between 60 percent and 85 percent of the participants were overweight and between 30 percent and 50 percent were obese, the federally funded study found. The obesity epidemic is more likely environmentally than genetically driven, Burke said. The differences between the weights of white, black and Hispanic Americans are no longer as meaningful, he stressed. Only Chinese-Americans have significantly less obesity (5 percent) than other ethnic groups.

A decade ago, experts thought the heart-related risks of obesity could be counterbalanced by the treatment of risk factors such as high cholesterol and glucose intolerance, Burke explained. People thought that, "Gosh, all we need to do is treat those risk factors and we can ameliorate the effects of obesity. So, our study looked at whether that is indeed true," he added.

It isn't, said Burke, noting that this is where his study breaks new ground. There is a relationship between less obvious, subclinical cardiovascular disease markers, such as the thickening of the walls of the carotid artery, and obesity, he explained. Even though the overweight and obese people studied hadn't had heart attacks they did show various markers that are predictors of future cardiovascular events, Burke added. This is was true despite the high number of people who were taking medications for the well-known triad of risk factors of high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Lona Sandon, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said that the findings show that "many of the people who were obese were being treated with various medications, but they still were not improving to the point where they were decreasing their risk."

The American mentality is that "if I just take those pills, I'll be OK," said Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. The study "kind of says you have to make some changes, some lifestyle changes and some food changes, to lead to a healthier weight."

Sandon added that even greater emphasis needs to be placed on prevention. "It's easier to prevent with an hour of exercise a day than correct with three hours of exercise a day," she noted. "Hopefully [the study] can be some kind of a wake-up call to tell us we need to do something more than hand out a prescription."

More information

For more on fighting obesity, go to the Obesity Action Coalition.

SOURCES: Gregory L. Burke, M.D., professor and director, division of public health sciences, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Lona Sandon, M.Ed., RD, assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; May 12, 2008, Archives of Internal Medicine

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