US heart deaths linked to obesity tripled in 20 years.

US heart deaths linked to obesity tripled in 20 years.

The Deadly Consequences of Obesity on Heart Health

Obesity and Heart Disease

Obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States, affecting about 42% of Americans. And the consequences are dire, especially for heart health. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reveals the alarming increase in deaths from heart disease related to obesity in the past two decades.

Between 1999 and 2020, deaths from obesity-related heart disease tripled in the United States, highlighting the urgent need for intervention and prevention strategies. Researchers analyzed data on more than 281,000 deaths during this period where obesity was identified as a contributing cause of death. The findings are not only concerning but also shed light on the groups most vulnerable to this deadly consequence of obesity.

The study revealed that Black adults, especially Black women, had the highest rates of obesity-related heart disease deaths. Additional vulnerable groups included American Indian and Alaska Native adults. These disparities can be attributed to higher rates of obesity within these communities, as well as social factors like unemployment, low income, and limited access to healthcare.

Overall, the rate of obesity-related heart disease deaths increased from 2.2 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 6.6 per 100,000 people in 2020. The leading causes of death in this population were hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, and high blood pressure-related conditions.

The study also examined the impact of urban versus rural living on obesity-related heart disease deaths. Interestingly, for Black adults, living in urban areas increased the risk, while the opposite held true for other racial groups. These findings suggest that broader social determinants of health play a significant role in an individual’s vulnerability to obesity-related heart disease.

Dr. Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, a cardiologist and clinical lecturer at the William Harvey Research Institute in London and the study’s author, emphasizes the urgent need for targeted public health programs. These programs should tackle the underlying causes of obesity and aim to reverse the alarming trends in obesity-related heart disease.

Preventing and intervening in obesity is crucial as heart disease complications can develop over decades. Dr. Scott Kahan, the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, warns that the downstream complications, like cardiovascular disease, are increasing due to the growing number of Americans living with obesity for longer periods. Certain groups, such as Black Americans and American Indians, are at even greater risk due to various factors, including higher obesity rates and limited access to medical care.

Dr. Deepak Bhatt, the director of Mount Sinai Heart, emphasizes that rising rates of obesity can be attributed to less physical activity and the availability of cheaper high-calorie foods. He underscores the importance of public health measures that promote healthy eating and increased physical activity to combat this epidemic.

Additionally, new medications that help with weight loss and provide cardiovascular benefits could be a useful tool in fighting obesity-related heart disease.

In conclusion, the increasing burden of obesity is taking a devastating toll on heart health in the United States. The study’s findings highlight the urgent need for targeted interventions and public health programs to address the disparities and help reverse this unsettling trend. By prioritizing healthy lifestyles, access to healthcare, and addressing social determinants of health, we can work towards a future where heart disease is no longer the leading consequence of obesity.


  • Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, director, National Center for Weight and Wellness, Washington, D.C.
  • Deepak Bhatt, MD, MPH, director, Mount Sinai Heart, Dr. Valentin Fuster Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, New York City
  • Journal of the American Heart Association, study and news release, Sept. 6, 2023

Lose Weight Without Dieting How to Lose Weight Without Dieting: 24 Fast Facts