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Medical News Today: Obesity may not reliably predict atherosclerosis in Mexican-Americans

A new study looking at early signs of atherosclerosis among Mexican-Americans suggests that blood sugar, insulin resistance and blood pressure may be more reliable indicators of atherosclerosis in this group than obesity.
atherosclerosis illustration
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which arteries fill with plaque, reducing blood flow and increasing risk of heart disease.

One of the biggest ethnic groups in the US, Mexican-Americans are expected to comprise nearly one third of the population by 2050.

“Hispanics bear a disproportionate burden of coronary risk factors such as diabetes and obesity,” says Dr. Susan T. Laing, lead study author and professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“If we are to achieve the American Heart Association’s goal of improving cardiovascular health for all Americans, then we cannot ignore Americans of Mexican descent,” Dr. Laing adds.

In their study, Dr. Laing and colleagues measured the height, weight, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol of 503 Mexican-American participants who lived along the Texas-Mexico border.

The thickness of the participants’ carotid arteries were also measured using ultrasound imaging, to detect signs of atherosclerosis – the condition in which arteries fill with plaque, reducing blood flow and increasing risk of heart disease or stroke.

Metabolic risk ‘has stronger relationship to atherosclerosis than obesity’

Analyzing the results of these ultrasounds, the researchers found that nearly one third of participants had indications of early atherosclerosis.

Fast facts about atherosclerosis

  • People with diabetes are at increased risk for atherosclerosis
  • The best way to prevent atherosclerosis is by exercising regularly, not smoking, following a Mediterranean diet and keeping up to date with flu vaccinations
  • Severe cases of atherosclerosis may be treated with angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting.

Learn more about atherosclerosis

If participants had two or more of the following risk factors, the researchers defined them as having an unhealthy metabolic profile:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated blood sugar
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • Insulin resistance
  • Elevated C-reactive protein.

Almost 78% of the participants were classed as being metabolically unhealthy and 52% were obese (had a BMI of 30 or higher). The metabolically unhealthy participants were less likely to meet the recommended guidelines for eating four to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Participants who were defined as being metabolically unhealthy and not obese were found to be more likely to be older males with a waist circumference of about 38 inches. This group were also found to have less education than other participants.

The metabolically unhealthy who were not clinically obese showed similar level of atherosclerosis to those who were obese, which suggests that metabolic risk has a stronger association to atherosclerosis among Mexican-Americans than obesity.

This is an interesting finding as some previous studies have found that waist circumference is predictive of atherosclerosis.

“Our findings are particularly relevant to future public health planning as interventions to maintain metabolic health may be a more important goal than focusing on weight loss alone,” Dr. Laing says. “That’s a message we should be promoting.”

In 2014, Medical News Today reported on a study published in JAMA that found atherosclerosis may be predicted by high blood pressure in early adulthood.

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