News Release

Length of time a young adult is obese linked with development of silent heart disease

Peer-Reviewed Publication

NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

WHAT: The length of time a young adult is obese is associated with the development of silent, or subclinical, heart disease in middle age, independent of body mass index (BMI) or waist circumference, according to National Institutes of Health-supported research. Each year that a young adult is obese increases that person's risk of developing coronary artery calcification, a subclinical predictor of heart disease, by 2 to 4 percent.

These findings were published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Obesity is a risk factor for subclinical heart disease, when people exhibit mild or no symptoms so it's seemingly silent. This is the first known study to show that a longer duration of obesity also contributes independently to the development of subclinical heart disease.

The researchers collected and examined data from 3,275 Caucasian and African-American adults, ages 18-30 years, who were enrolled in the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute- (NHLBI) supported Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA) in the mid-1980s, around the start of the obesity epidemic in the United States.

The study participants were recruited from Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Minneapolis; and Oakland, Calif., and followed for 25 years, from young adulthood to middle age. Every 2 to 5 years, participants were examined to determine if and when they became obese and how long they stayed obese. CT scans given at years 15, 20, or 25 determined the presence of coronary artery calcification.

Since the mid-1980s, obesity has become increasingly prevalent in the United States with over one-third of adults now obese. In addition, people are becoming more obese at earlier ages. The study results suggest that this trend of increasing lifelong obesity may have important implications for the future burden of subclinical heart disease and potentially for rates of clinical heart disease in the United States.


WHO: Jared P. Reis, Ph.D., first author of the study and an epidemiologist in the NHLBI's Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, is available to comment on the findings and implications of this research.

CONTACT: For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact the NHLBI Communications Office at 301-496-4236 or

Supplemental Information:

Part of the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases; and sleep disorders. The Institute also administers national health education campaigns on women and heart disease, healthy weight for children, and other topics. NHLBI press releases and other materials are available online at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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