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Heart Association adds obesity to risk factor list


Impotence also linked to heart disease

June 1, 1998
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT)

(CNN) -- Obesity has long been considered a major health risk, and on Monday the American Heart Association agreed, adding it to its list of major risk factors for heart disease and heart attack.

"Obesity itself has become a lifelong disease, not a cosmetic issue nor a moral judgment, and it is becoming a dangerous epidemic," said Dr. Robert H. Eckel, vice chairman of the AHA's Nutrition Committee.

Obesity joins other major risk factors on the list, including smoking, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and a sedentary lifestyle. Obesity was previously listed as a contributing risk factor.

The link between obesity and heart disease isn't news to doctors, who have known for years that those who are overweight have increased health risks.

Research has shown that even a modest weight reduction -- 5 to 10 percent of body weight -- can reduce high blood pressure and total cholesterol levels.

"The message for America is that 5 to 10 percent of weight reduction may be all that's really needed to favorably modify cardiovascular risk," Eckel said.

Weight loss can benefit lifestyle

That 5 to 10 percent weight loss can also make you feel better in general.

"Pay attention not only to weight loss but pay attention to quality of life. Small weight losses sustained over time -- 10-, 15- or 20-pound weight losses -- lead to major changes in lifestyle, all beneficial," said John Paul Foreyt of the American Heart Association.

Obesity is a complex condition that the medical community is just beginning to understand. The AHA hopes the new listing will get doctors to take the disease more seriously.

Eckel said the medical community's understanding of obesity and its impact on heart disease is in its infancy. He compared it to the understanding of cholesterol's role in heart disease in the mid-1970s.

"(Obesity's) causes are a complex, individualized combination of genetics, behavior and lifestyle that we are just now beginning to understand," Eckel said.

Study links impotence to heart disease

In a related development, a new study found that impotence in men caused by blood flow problems may be the first sign of heart disease even in the absence of other symptoms.

These men could benefit from a heart exam, especially if they have a history of heart disease in their family, the study said. The findings were presented Sunday at the American Urological Association's annual meeting.

"The new findings of a link between impotence and heart disease provides another important reason why men should undergo a thorough health examination rather than simply take measures or medications like Viagra to treat the impotency," said Dr. John Mulhall of the Loyola University Medical Center.

The study looked at 42 men between the ages of 35 and 55. It found that patients with penile blood flow problems were more likely to show cardiac abnormality after being examined by a heart doctor, despite showing no signs other than impotence.

Viagra has put male impotence in the media spotlight. Since Pfizer Inc. launched the drug in March, it has become one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States.

Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore and Reuters contributed to this report.

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