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More Women Know Their Heart Risk

Awareness Efforts Helping, but Gaps Remain

Fat but Fit? Probably Not

Finally, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston reported that obesity and sedentary lifestyle are independent risk factors for developing heart disease, challenging the idea that exercise alone or maintaining a healthy weight alone is all that is needed to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Frank Hu, MD, PhD, and Harvard colleagues examined body weight, body type, and activity level among 88,393 female nurses followed for two decades, until 2000.

Compared with women who exercised regularly and were not overweight, the researchers reported that:

  • Women who were obese and sedentary were 3.5 times as likely to have heart disease.
  • Obese women who exercised regularly were 2.5 times as likely to develop heart disease.
  • Women who were not overweight but did not exercise had about 1.5 times the risk.

Cigarette smokers who were obese and sedentary were nine times as likely as active, normal-weight nonsmokers to develop heart disease.

"A high level of physical activity did not eliminate the risk of coronary heart disease associated with obesity, and leanness did not counteract the increased coronary heart disease risk associated with inactivity," Hu says.

Age, Other Illnesses Play Role

In the Monday news conference, Mosca and Jacobs said the fact that women with heart disease tend to be older and sicker than male heart patients may explain some of the diagnostic and treatment differences between the sexes, but not all of them.

Women typically develop heart disease later in life than men, usually in their 60s and 70s instead of in their 50s and 60s.

But studies show that older women reap the same benefits from efforts to reduce risk and treat heart disease as anyone, Mosca says.

"The important message to women is despite their age, they are as likely to benefit as much, if not more, than their male counterparts and their younger female counterparts," she says.

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