A woman with a heart in her chest, expressing heart health.

The Link Between Obesity and Heart Disease 

Recent studies are continuing to show links between obesity and heart disease. Obesity’s classification as a disease with significant health impacts was first recognized in 1948 by the World Health Organization.  

Since then, obesity has also been identified as one of the leading causes of poor cardiovascular health. Additional studies show that obesity can lead to heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.  

More than 47% of adults in the United States have hypertension. Nearly 42% of adults have obesity, according to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2024 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics. The diseases are intricately linked, as obesity is the main cause of high blood pressure. About 75% of hypertension can be attributed to obesity, according to the AHA. 

Obesity and Heart Disease is Linked to Organ Health 

In late 2023, the AHA defined cardiovascular-kidney-metabolic syndrome, or CKM. Cardiovascular-kidney-metabolic syndrome affects major organs in the body, including the heart, brain, kidneys and liver.  

With record levels of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, more than 90% of adults fall on the CKM spectrum. Increasing evidence shows abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar can negatively affect other organs.  

By identifying the connection, the hope is that early intervention will result in better outcomes. 

READ MORE: The Benefits of Weight Loss and Heart Disease 

Pregnancy and Teenage Stress linked to Obesity and Heart Disease 

In January, a connection was also made between high teenage stress and adult obesity and heart disease. Young adults with high stress were more likely to have high blood pressure, obesity and other risk factors for heart disease. 

Another study published last fall in Circulation Research identified that obesity before or during pregnancy is linked with a higher risk of developing heart disease later in life, as well as pregnancy complications. The study followed participants – half of whom were overweight or obese – from the beginning of their pregnancy to several years postpartum.  

How Can Bariatric Surgery Improve Heart Health? 

Also in January, a study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology showed significant reduction in blood pressure for adults who had bariatric weight loss surgery. In the study, bariatric surgery improved blood pressure five years after surgery compared to patients just taking blood pressure medications. In addition, nearly 50% of the surgery patients were able to control their blood pressure without medication. Typically, only about one-quarter of people with high blood pressure can control it with medication.  

READ MORE: The connection between obesity and high blood pressure 

How to Improve Heart Health by Reducing Obesity 

Each study supports the concept that effective treatment of obesity may be key to improving heart health.  

However, it’s also becoming clear that a healthy diet and exercise may not be enough to combat obesity and the body’s evolutionary tendency to try to regain weight.  

People who are obese and have been unable to lose or maintain weight loss with lifestyle modifications alone should seek medical advice on other weight-loss options. It may be the best way to be kind to your heart.