For a great majority of the nations, the body mass index (BMI) has always been the go-to yardstick in determining a healthy body weight relative to height for each individual. A higher than normal BMI is often a risk factor for many long-term health problems; like diabetes, hypertension, joint, heart and liver problems.

Now, a study presented by the European Society of Human Genetics has shown that a high BMI can lead to worsening heart health in those aged as young as 17.

Heart problems in the young

Recently, a study that looked into the effects of obesity on heart health was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Bristol. The team looked at data from 14,000 patients since the year 1990, taking into account both environmental and genetic factors.

From this data, the team found a causal link between an increased BMI to higher blood pressure and left ventricular mass index (LVMI). Having a higher blood pressure served as both a pre-cursor and risk factor to developing hypertension, a gateway to various cardiovascular problems.

The left ventricle acts as the main pump for oxygenated blood from the heart. Therefore, an increased LVMI is an indication of a heart that has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body.

An enlarged left ventricle is the precursor to various heart problems such as hypertension and heart failure. Otherwise, the team detected no change in heart rate associated with obesity.

Another unique point of this research lies in its methodology which allowed for a faster yet reliable analysis of a large number of patient data.

“Randomised controlled trials are important for disentangling cause and effect in disease, they are expensive, time-consuming and labor-intensive,” according to the research team leader, Dr. Wade.

“Modern genomics allows us to detect causality more quickly and cheaply, and the availability of large quantities of genetic data means that we can overcome the limitations of observational epidemiological studies.”

The team hopes that the findings of the study will motivate others to tackle obesity from early life.

Obesity in Asia

Obesity is on the rise in Asia, with Malaysia having the highest percentage of obesity in the entire continent. In Malaysia, nearly half (47.7%) of the population aged 18 and above are overweight or obese. The effects are also clearly shown in their health outcomes, with 30.3% of Malaysians aged 18 and above suffering from hypertension, 47.7% have high cholesterol levels and 17.5% have diabetes.

Meanwhile in Singapore, the rates of obesity are steadily rising as well, going from 7% in 2004 to 11% in 2010. While these rates are still one of the lowest in the region, the rising trend still remains to be a cause for concern.

In fact, it is estimated that one third of young adults in Singapore will develop diabetes by the age of 65. More worryingly, the rate of obesity in school children has risen to 12%.

The possible solution to the obesity problem

Local governments, such as Singapore and Malaysia, have implemented various campaigns and action plans to promote exercising among the general public and school children. Nevertheless, these programmes often have varying effects despite their best efforts.

Surprisingly, there may be an effective solution to combat obesity. According to a group of researchers, the protein myostatin was found to inhibit the function of muscle growth where higher quantities of myostatin were found in obese individuals compared to thinner individuals.

By suppressing myostatin production, the researchers were able to increase the muscle mass in tested mice. Moreover, mice with low myostatin levels also displayed markedly improved health and kidney functions.

If successfully applied to humans, myostatin inhibition would be of great benefit to the medical field in the coming future. Besides acting as a “cure” for obesity, this treatment modality also has other possible applications namely in diseases where muscle wasting occurs such as HIV infection, cancer and comas.

Realistically, more research is required to fully understand the effects of myostatin and usage in humans. Nevertheless, it does offer one possible solution for individuals struggling to overcome obesity. MIMS

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