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Weight Matters continued...

Compared with their normal-weight, low-risk counterparts, the obese people in the study also had four times the risk of hospitalization for heart disease and 11 times the risk of dying of diabetes.

Low-risk people who were overweight but not obese had a higher risk of death and hospitalization from cardiovascular disease and diabetes than their normal-weight counterparts and a lower risk than people who were obese.

"Our study is unique in that we had a very long follow up of over 30 years," says Yan, who is a research assistant professor at Northwestern and an assistant professor at China's Peking University.

"This is only one study, but it adds to the existing picture of the health consequences of obesity. It is important to try and maintain a healthy body weight and to work to lose weight or at least not gain more weight if you already are overweight or obese."

Lose Weight, Get Moving

The American Heart Association has long recognized obesity as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease -- one of six modifiable risk factors along with smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and diabetes.

AHA spokesman and cardiologist Gerald Fletcher, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., tells WebMD that while most people who are obese also have other cardiovascular risk factors, this isn't always the case.

He says carrying extra weight puts excess strain on the heart, which could help explain its role in increasing heart attack and stroke risk despite other risk factors.

Fletcher says people can lower their cardiovascular risk by losing weight, not smoking, keeping high blood pressure and cholesterol under control with medication, and getting active.

That means walking or doing something else to get your heart rate up from 30 to 60 minutes a day, six to seven days a week, he says. He adds that only about one in four people in the U.S. get enough cardiovascular exercise.

"You don't have to do it all at once," he says. "You can spread it throughout the day, but our data tell us that most people still aren't doing it. And about 17% of the country is not exercising at all."

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