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As Obesity Increases, So Does Stroke Risk

Researchers followed over 13,500 middle-aged Americans for 19 years to determine incraesed stroke risk associated with several measures of obesity, emphasizing body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight and height, but also such measures as waist circumference.

Their findings published online in Stroke found that the risk of stroke was increased with each measure of obesity.   The degree of risk varied by sex and ethnic group. For example, people in the highest BMI category had a 1.43 to 2.12 times higher risk for stroke, with variations by race and sex. The risk ratios ranged from 1.65 to 3.19 when obesity was measured by waist circumference and from 1.69 to 2.55 when the ratio of waist to hip was used.

“Obesity contributes to both diabetes and hypertension [high blood pressure], which are associated with stroke and at an earlier age,” explains Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance.  Each year about 600,000 people experience their first stroke according to the organization’s annual statistical update.

The risk was especially high for blacks, the study found. For example, the incidence of stroke was 1.2 per 1,000 person-years for white women and 4.3 per 1,000 person-years for black women. In the highest BMI category, rates ranged from 2.2 for white women to 8.0 for black men.

That higher incidence of stroke for blacks has been found in many previous studies, and it also is seen in Asians, Yatsuya said. The reason is unknown, but there may be a genetic difference, the medical experts noted.

The increased risk linked to weight was evident in every ethnic group, according to the researchers.  Men and women in the highest obesity category had about double the risk for stroke as did those in the lowest category.  Obesity appears to act by increasing the incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes, two major risk factors for stroke and other cardiovascular problems.

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