Friday, March 23, 2007

Obesity's Ties to Heart Disease Still Unclear

(HealthDay News) -- While the two often go hand in hand, the exact link between obesity and cardiovascular disease is complex and remains poorly understood, a new report finds.

Experts are urging more research into this area, particularly into the biological differences between women and men.

"We know that weight gain and fat deposition differ between women and men. Research into these differences can generate tremendous information about the development and progression of disease," said Sherry Marts, vice president of scientific affairs for the Society for Women's Health Research, said in a prepared statement.

She co-authored the report, based on a U.S. workshop of obesity and heart disease specialists who met to develop ideas for future research on sex differences in obesity and cardiovascular disease.

The findings are published in the March issue of the Journal of Investigative Medicine.

The workshop, held in November 2005, was convened by the Society for Women's Health Research to discuss recommendations in the U.S. National Institutes of Health Obesity Research Task Force report.

"The task force report included sex as a population variable, but it did not explicitly recommend further research into biological sex differences in obesity and related diseases," Marts said.

The experts at the workshop developed three recommendations:

  • Future research to investigate "adipose" tissue composition and distribution. Adipose tissue stores fat, responds to the body's need for energy by mobilizing fat, and produces chemical signals involved in appetite regulation. Distribution of adipose tissue, which differs between men and women, plays a major role in cardiovascular disease risk.
  • Studies that span the lifetimes of women and men. These studies may help explain why women develop cardiovascular disease an average of 10 years later than men.
  • The need to refine current, and develop new, tools of measurement to study energy intake, energy expenditure, weight gain, obesity, and cardiovascular disease risk in animals and humans. Current measurements are not well-standardized and not always gender-appropriate.

"Obesity has become a pandemic, and its impact on health is broad, complex and varied depending on the individual. That's why we need an interdisciplinary approach that takes into account factors like sex," Marts said. "This will remain an important area of study for decades to come, as heart disease is the number one killer of American women and men."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about the health consequences of being overweight or obese.

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