Obesity is common among Hispanics in the U.S. and is particularly severe in young adults, according to a new study of body mass index and cardiovascular disease risk factors in adult Hispanic/Latino populations.

BMI is a ratio of weight to height. A BMI of 30-39.9 indicates obesity, and 40 or more indicates severe obesity. While BMI varies for each person, one example of severe obesity would be someone who is 5-feet-5 and weigh more than 240 pounds.

Severe obesity, according to researchers,may be associated with considerable excess risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Hispanics in the U.S. are facing an obesity epidemic that “is unprecedented and getting worse,” said Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “Because young adults with obesity are likely to be sicker as they age, and have higher healthcare costs, we should be investing heavily in obesity research and prevention, as if our nation’s future depended upon it.”

Researchers reviewed a study of 16,344 people in The Bronx in New York; Chicago, Miami and San Diego. The average age was 40 for men and 41 for women. About 37 percent of participants were of a Mexican background, 20 percent, Cuban and 16 percent, Puerto Rican.

Researchers found:

  • 18 percent of women and 12 percent of men were obese with a BMI above 35, signaling special health concerns.
  • 5 percent of men and 10 percent of women 25 to 34 years old were severely obese.
  • More than half of those who were severely obese had unhealthy “good” HDL cholesterol and inflammation, measured by C-reactive protein.
  • About 40 percent of all participants had high blood pressure, and more than 25 percent had diabetes.

“This is a heavy burden being carried by young people who should be in the prime of life,” Kaplan said. “Young people, and especially men — who had the highest degree of future cardiovascular disease risk factors in our study — are the very individuals who tend to neglect the need to get regular checkups, adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors, and seek the help of healthcare providers.”

High blood pressure and diabetes, risk factors for heart disease and stroke, appeared to be more tightly linked with severe obesity in men compared to women.

The findings for younger Hispanic adults, who are in their child-bearing and child-rearing years, suggest to Kaplan that healthcare providers should take a holistic, family approach to weight management. A host of biological and societal factors that affect parents’ weight could also affect their children, he said.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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