Being overweight as a teen may be associated with higher risk of heart muscle disease in adulthood

Close up photo of a hand on a scale while a patient is being weighed

Circulation Journal Report

A large study of Swedish men found that those who were even mildly overweight around age 18 were more likely develop cardiomyopathy in adulthood — an uncommon heart muscle condition that can cause heart failure, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

The study examined data on height, weight and overall fitness from a Swedish registry of 1,668,893 men who enlisted in compulsory military service between 1969 and 2005, when the men were 18 or 19. The researchers then used two other national databases that track the causes of all hospitalizations and deaths in Sweden to determine whether the men had serious heart disease as they aged, and followed them for up to 46 years.

”We were interested in studying cardiomyopathies, because heart failure caused by this historically uncommon disorder doubled in Sweden between 1987 and 2006,” said Annika Rosengren, M.D., Ph.D. study co-author, professor of medicine at the University of Gothenburg and cardiologist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Among the men in the study, 4,477 were diagnosed with cardiomyopathy at an average age of 45.5 years. The men who were lean at age 18 – with a body mass index (BMI – measure of body weight) below 20 – had a low risk of cardiomyopathy. However, that risk steadily increased as weight increased, even among men on the high end of a normal BMI (22.5-25).

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