Overview of epidemiology and contribution of obesity to cardiovascular disease

Prog Cardiovasc Dis. Jan-Feb 2014;56(4):369-81. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2013.10.016. Epub 2013 Oct 24.


The prevalence of obesity has increased worldwide and is a source of concern since the negative consequences of obesity start as early as in childhood. The most commonly used anthropometric tool to assess relative weight and classify obesity is the body mass index (BMI); BMI alone shows a U- or a J-shaped association with clinical outcomes and mortality. Such an inverse relationship fuels a controversy in the literature, named the 'obesity paradox', which associates better survival and fewer cardiovascular (CV) events in patients with elevated BMI afflicted with chronic diseases compared to non-obese patients. However, BMI cannot make the distinction between an elevated body weight due to high levels of lean vs. fat body mass. Generally, an excess of body fat (BF) is more frequently associated with metabolic abnormalities than a high level of lean body mass. Another explanation for the paradox is the absence of control for major individual differences in regional BF distribution. Adipose tissue is now considered as a key organ regarding the fate of excess dietary lipids, which may determine whether or not body homeostasis will be maintained (metabolically healthy obesity) or a state of inflammation/insulin resistance will be produced, with deleterious CV consequences. Obesity, particularly visceral obesity, also induces a variety of structural adaptations/alterations in CV structure/function. Adipose tissue can now be considered as an endocrine organ orchestrating crucial interactions with vital organs and tissues such as the brain, the liver, the skeletal muscle, the heart and blood vessels themselves. Thus, the evidence reviewed in this paper suggests that adipose tissue quality/function is as important, if not more so, than its amount in determining the overall health and CV risks of overweight/obesity.

Keywords: BF; BMI; Body fat; Body mass index; C-reactive protein; CHD; CRP; CV; CV risks; CVD; Cardiovascular; Cardiovascular disease; Coronary heart disease; DM; Diabetes mellitus; Ectopic fat; FFAs; Free fatty acids; HDL; HF; HTN; Heart failure; High-density lipoprotein; Hypertension; Il; Interleukin; LDL; LV; LVH; LVM; Left ventricular; Left ventricular hypertrophy; Left ventricular mass; Low-density lipoprotein; MI; Myocardial infarction; NHANES; NSTEMI; National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction; Obesity; TGs; TNF; Triglycerides; Tumor necrosis factor; VLDL; Very low-density lipoprotein; WC; WHR; Waist circumference; Waist-to-hip ratio.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat / metabolism
  • Abdominal Fat / physiopathology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Body Fat Distribution
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diagnosis*
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity, Morbid / diagnosis
  • Obesity, Morbid / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / physiopathology
  • Prevalence
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Distribution