Home > Know Your Heart > Obesity and Heart Disease

girl-drinking-waterWhy should we care about managing our families' weight? There has been a lot of talk lately about how much heavier Americans have been growing since the 1970s. Today, approximately 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese with sixty-one million adult Americans considered obese.

Children are becoming heavier as well. The percentage of children and teens who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Today, about 17 percent of American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight.

Extra pounds can add up to health problems, often for life. In adults, overweight and obesity are linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and other chronic conditions.

asian-children-runningFor children, overweight also increases health risks. Type 2 diabetes was once rare in American children—now it accounts for 8 to 45 percent of newly-diagnosed diabetes cases in children and adolescents. Overweight children are also more likely to become overweight or obese as adults.

A person's weight is the result of many things working together—genes, metabolism (the way your body converts food and oxygen into energy), behavior, and your environment.

Changes in our environment that make it harder to engage in healthy behavior have a lot to do with our overall increase in weight over the past few decades. For example:

  • We're an in-the-car and sit-behind-a-desk society. For many of us—parents and children alike—daily life doesn't involve a lot of physical activity. If we want to be active, we have to make an effort.
  • Food is everywhere, along with messages telling us to eat and drink. We can get something to eat in places where it was never available before—like the gas station. Going out to eat or buying carryout is easy.
  • Food portions at restaurants and at home are bigger than they used to be. To learn how these larger portions impact the calories or energy you consume, visit the Portion Distortion page.


Aiming for a Healthy Weight

To help your family get on the road to maintaining a healthy weight, here's a list of small steps to eat well (ENERGY IN) and move more (ENERGY OUT) that you or the family can do together to balance your energy everyday. Choose a different "eat well" and "move more" tip each week for you and your family to try.

Eat Well (ENERGY IN) Move More (ENERGY OUT)
  • Drink water before a meal.
  • Share dessert, or choose fruit instead.
  • Serve food portions no larger than your fist.
  • Eat off smaller plates.
  • Don't eat late at night.
  • Skip buffets.
  • Grill, steam, or bake instead of frying.
  • Share an entree with a family member or friend.
  • Eat before grocery shopping.
  • Choose a checkout line without a candy display.
  • Make a grocery list before you shop.
  • Serve water or low-fat milk at meals instead of soda or sugary drinks.
  • Flavor foods with herbs, spices, and low-fat seasonings.
  • Keep to a regular eating schedule. Eat together as a family most days of the week.
  • Eat before you get too hungry.
  • Ensure your family eats breakfast everyday.
  • Stop eating when you are full.
  • Provide plenty of fruits and vegetables for snacks.
  • Provide sliced apples or bananas for your family to top their favorite cereal.
  • Serve several whole grain foods daily.
  • If entrees are large, choose an appetizer or side dish.
  • Ask for salad dressing "on the side."
  • Don't serve seconds.
  • Try a green salad instead of fries.
  • Walk your children to school.
  • Do sit-ups in front of the TV. Challenge your children to see who can do the most sit-ups in one minute.
  • Walk instead of drive whenever you can.
  • Take a family walk after dinner.
  • Join an exercise group and enroll your children in community sports teams or lessons.
  • Replace a Sunday drive with a Sunday walk.
  • Do yard work. Get your children to help rake, weed, or plant.
  • Get off the bus a stop early and walk.
  • Work around the house. Ask your children for help doing active chores.
  • Take the dog to the park.
  • Go for a half-hour walk instead of watching TV.
  • Wash the car by hand.
  • Pace the sidelines at kids' athletic games.
  • Choose an activity that fits into your daily life. Being physically active with your family is a great way to spend time together.
  • Park farther from the store and walk.
  • Use an exercise video if the weather is bad.
  • Perform gardening or home repair activities.
  • Avoid labor-saving devices, such as a remote control or electric mixers.
  • Play with your kids 30 minutes a day.
  • Dance to music. Play your favorite dance music for your children and have them play their favorites for you.
  • Make a Saturday morning walk a family habit.
  • Walk briskly in the mall.
  • Choose activities you enjoy—you'll be more likely to stick with them. Ask children what activities they want to do.

Adapted from www.smallstep.gov

Body Mass Index (BMI)

man-drinking-waterFor adults, a healthy weight is defined as the appropriate weight in relation to height. This ratio of weight to height is known as the body mass index (BMI).

People who are overweight might have too much body weight for their height. People who are obese almost always have a large amount of body fat in relation to their height. There are exceptions, of course. Big athletes with lots of muscle might have a BMI over 30.0 but would not be considered obese from the perspective of health risk.

Use a BMI calculator for adults and learn your BMI by entering your height and weight.

For children and teens, overweight is defined differently than it is for adults. Because children are still growing, and boys and girls develop at different rates, BMIs for children 2 to 20 years old are determined by comparing their weight and height against growth charts that take their age and gender into account.

A child's "BMI-for-age" shows how his or her BMI compares with other boys or girls of the same age. A child or teen who is between the 85th and 95th percentile on the growth chart is considered at risk of overweight. A child or teen who is at the 95th percentile or above is considered overweight.

Ask your family doctor, pediatrician, or other health care provider about your child's BMI-for-age. Click here for more information about BMI-for-age and growth charts for children.

Study: Fruit, veggies good for the heart

berriesA multiyear study involving more than 100,000 participants provides added support that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is good for the heart. The report supports the American Heart Association's recommendations to consume at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day.

Fruits were more strongly associated with reduced heart disease than vegetables, the researchers said. Among vegetables, those most closely related to better heart health were green leafy vegetables.

The truth about wine

The most studied benefit to date of drinking red wine is the lowering of heart disease. Studies on polyphenols in wine and the various compounds are shown to prevent heart disease.

Some studies say one glass of wine daily is recommended. Others suggest two. One study even recommends four to six bottles a week.

Doctors say stick to one or two glasses a day. If you have high blood pressure, doctors recommend a glass of wine ever other day because alcohol is a factor in hypertension. You can you get some of the same health benefits of wine from grape juice.

Depression may be bad for your heart

depressionNew research is adding to evidence of a link between depression and problems like heart attack and stroke. A study of post-menopausal women finds depression increases the chances of death from cardiovascular disease, even when there is no history of cardiovascular illness.

Women without diagnosed depression, but with depressive symptoms like feeling sad, being tired, and having trouble sleeping were 1 1/2 times more likely to die of a cardiovascular illness compared with women who had no depressive symptoms. Researchers say there was no difference in risk for depressed women who took anti-depressant medication. Nearly 16 percent of the 93,000 women studied had symptoms of depression that couldn't be attributed to a death or other misfortune.

Women with depressive symptoms were 12-percent more likely to have high blood pressure and 60 percent more likely than non-depressed women to have a history of cardiovascular illness. Though they don't understand the metabolic connection, researchers say this adds to evidence that depression is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular illness. Several studies in the past have found a higher rate of depression among patients with cardiovascular disease.

Research taken from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.

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