Obesity and heart disease

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a range of conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle.

Heart disease includes:

  • Coronary heart disease. The most common cause of death in Australia.1 It occurs when fatty material builds up in your arteries, causing either a heart attack (a blockage of your coronary artery) or angina (a temporary reduction in blood flow to your heart).
  • Heart failure. Usually a chronic condition where your heart muscle can’t pump enough blood around the body.
  • Valve diseases. The valves in your heart open and close to keep blood flowing in the right direction. If they become damaged or diseased, they can affect your heart health.
  • Irregular and abnormal heart rhythms.

How does obesity contribute to heart disease?

In 2015, obesity contributed 25% of the disease burden associated with coronary heart disease2 and excess body fat is a considerable risk factor for heart disease.

Being overweight or obese can increase the fatty build up in your arteries. This can lead to higher cholesterol or higher blood pressure. These can all increase your likelihood of a heart attack3.

What are the risk factors of heart disease?

There are many risk factors of developing heart disease. Some of it is out of your control. Some heart diseases can be genetic, so you’re more likely to develop it if it runs in your family. There are also some ethnicities that are more likely to develop heart disease, such as people from South Asian, Middle Eastern, Maori or Pacific Islander descent. Heart disease is also high in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia3.

There are many lifestyle factors you can control to reduce your risk of heart disease. These include smoking, unhealthy diet, being inactive, unhealthy weight and drinking alcohol excessively3.

What are the complications of heart disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia1 so it’s important that we do all we can to prevent it. It can also lead to ongoing health problems that may require lifelong care.

How can you manage heart disease?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for heart disease. However, depending on the condition, you can manage it with medication or surgery and lifestyle improvements.

Many risk factors for heart disease can be prevented though, so it’s important to reduce your risk of heart disease by improving your health and losing weight3.

High blood pressure and Obesity
1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Coronary heart disease.Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/coronary-heart-disease. Accessed December 2021.

2 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015: Interactive data on risk factor burden., AIHW, Australian Government, accessed December 2021 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/burden-of-disease/interactive-data-risk-factor-burden

3 Heart Foundation. Are you at risk of heart disease? Available https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/heart-health-education/are-you-at-risk-of-heart-disease Accessed December 2021