PORTLAND, Oregon —People who are overweight or obese experience cardiovascular disease at an earlier age than people of normal weight.

That’s the findings of a study presented Thursday at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions.

Prior studies have suggested an “obesity paradox” in which overweight and obese people — body-mass index greater than 25 — may live longer compared to people with normal BMI. The new study provides insight into the “paradox” by analyzing individual-level pooled data from the Lifetime Risk Pooling Project, which includes 20 large U.S. community-based cardiovascular disease groups.

In the new study, overweight and obese people tended to have slightly shorter or similar lifespans compared to people with normal body weight, whether or not they had cardiovascular diseases. But compared to people with normal BMI, lifetime risks for developing cardiovascular disease were higher in overweight and obese adults. For example, overweight middle-aged women were 32 percent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease in their lifetime compared to those of normal weight.

Average years lived without cardiovascular disease were longest for people with normal BMI, while years lived with cardiovascular disease were longest for overweight and obese people.

Overweight or obese people also experienced cardiovascular disease at an earlier age than those with normal BMI. For example, among overweight middle-aged women, cardiovascular disease began 1.8 years earlier than normal weight women, and 4.3 years earlier for those who were obese.

For the study, the researchers looked at cardiovascular disease data of 72,490 people, focusing on patients in middle-age, who were 55-years-old on average.

Participants were healthy and free of cardiovascular disease when they enrolled in the study. The average BMI was 27.4 for men and 27.1 for women.

During follow-up, 13,457 cardiovascular disease events occurred, including 6,309 deaths due to cardiovascular disease and 11,782 deaths not associated with cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease events include coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure.

BMI indirectly measures body fat and doesn’t consider central obesity, the build-up of abdominal fat that can adversely affect health. So future studies could explore other measures of overweight and obesity, such as waist circumference and abdominal fat, said Sadiya Khan, M.D., M.Sc., an instructor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“Our findings suggest that healthcare providers need to continue to be aware of the increased risk of earlier cardiovascular disease faced by overweight and obese people,” she said. “Healthcare providers should emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy weight throughout their lives to live longer, healthier lives.”