Excess belly fat is present in nearly two-third of patients who are at high risk of developing heart disease and stroke, reveals a European Society of Cardiology (ESC) EUROASPIRE V survey.
Excess fat around the middle of the body (central obesity) is a marker of abnormal fat distribution. This belly fat is bad for the heart, even in people who are not otherwise overweight or obese.
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Europe. Each year in Europe there are more than 11 million new cases of cardiovascular disease and 3.9 million deaths caused by cardiovascular disease. Elimination of risk behaviors would prevent at least 80% of cardiovascular diseases.
Professor Kornelia Kotseva, chair of the EUROASPIRE Steering Committee from Imperial College London, UK, said: "The survey shows that large proportions of individuals at high risk of cardiovascular disease have unhealthy lifestyle habits and uncontrolled blood pressure, lipids and diabetes."
EUROASPIRE is a series of cross sectional surveys on the prevention of cardiovascular disease in ESC member countries. The results of the primary care arm of EUROASPIRE V are reported on December 7th. The study was conducted in 2017 to 2018 in 78 general practices in 16 primarily European countries.
Each general practice enrolled consecutive individuals under the age of 80 years with no history of coronary artery disease or other atherosclerotic disease, but who were at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. High risk was defined as having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or diabetes; the study therefore recruited individuals who had been prescribed anti hypertensive, lipid-lowering, and/or anti-diabetes treatments (diet and/or oral hypoglycemics and/or insulin).
Participants were retrospectively identified using medical records and invited to an interview and clinical examination. Questions were asked about smoking, diet, physical activity, blood pressure, lipids and diabetes. Measurements included height, weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. The primary outcomes were the proportions of participants achieving targets for cardiovascular disease prevention in the 2016 European guidelines.
A total of 2,759 participants were interviewed and examined using standardized methods and instruments. Nearly two-thirds (64%) were centrally obese (waist circumference 88 cm or greater for women and 102 cm or higher for men). Some 37% were overweight (body mass index [BMI] 25 to 29.9 kg/m2) and 44% were obese (BMI 30kg/m2 or above). Nearly one in five participants (18%) were smokers and just 36% achieved the recommended physical activity level of at least 30 minutes, five times per week.
Professor Kotseva said: "GPs should proactively look for cardiovascular risk factors so that comprehensive treatment and advice can be given. She added: "GPs need to go beyond treating the risk factors they know about, and always investigate smoking, obesity, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. People are often unaware that they need treatment - for example they visit their GP for their diabetes but do not know they also have high blood pressure. In our study, many participants with high blood pressure and cholesterol were not being treated."
She continued: "These data make it clear that more efforts must be made to improve cardiovascular prevention in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Our analysis highlights the need for health care systems to invest in prevention."
"Public health initiatives will also help to prevent heart disease and stroke," Professor Kotseva highlighted. "This includes smoking bans, taxing foods high in sugar and saturated fat, and providing areas for exercise."