According to the CDC, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke, and every 3.5 minutes someone dies of a stroke. Nearly 25% of all strokes are repeat strokes, making a previous stroke a major risk factor. But an even greater risk factor is obesity – being overweight doubles your risk of stroke. Unfortunately, 66% of Americans are overweight.
Why obesity increases stroke risk
Like smoking, being overweight can cause a host of medical issues that can increase the risk of stroke. About 75% of stroke victims are over 65, but in recent years, more and more younger people have been having strokes. One of the reasons is obesity in young adults and even children, which usually brings with it other health issues that are known as “metabolic syndrome.”
A person is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if he or she has three or more of the following:
- Elevated blood pressure
- High LDL cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Elevated blood sugar
- Excess abdominal fat
These conditions are caused by increased inflammation, fatty buildup in blood vessels, and the increased effort the body must exert to circulate the blood, which is why they are often associated with being overweight. These conditions increase the risk of stroke because they weaken blood vessels and can lead to blood clots, both of which can cause a stroke.
While on average, being overweight doubles your risk of stroke, different risk factors are associated with varying levels of risk. Here are just a few examples, based on a variety of studies:
- Those with metabolic syndrome are three times more likely to have a stroke than those without this condition
- Young men ages 15 to 49 who are obese are 73% more likely to have a stroke than non-obese young men, and obese young women are 46% more likely than non-obese young women
- Even young obese people without metabolic syndrome have an increased risk of stroke, demonstrating that weight itself is a significant factor
- High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and causes death in more than 38% of cases
- Overweight individuals are more likely to experience sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, which increases the risk of high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythm, and stroke
- About 9% of people in a healthy weight range according to BMI have metabolic syndrome; but 33% of overweight and 62% of obese people have the condition, demonstrating a clear link between obesity and metabolic syndrome, which leads to stroke
Measuring your BMI and WHR
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a complicated formula that measures body fat based on one’s height and weight. It is a flawed measurement that does not take into account body composition, sex, race, and age. However, it is a good starting guide that can alert people and doctors to the presence of a possible problem. It is also possible to find a “smart BMI calculator” online that takes into account age and gender. This adjusted number is more accurate but still limited. BMI of 25 is considered overweight, BMI of 30 or higher is obese.
Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a newer measure that is a more accurate predictor since weight centered around the midriff is a greater risk factor for stroke than just weight alone. WHR is calculated by measuring the thinnest part of the waist and the widest part of the hips. The calculation is simple: waist measurement divided by hip measurement = WHR. As a general rule, WHR of 1.0 or greater in men or 0.9 or greater in women indicates a high risk of health problems associated with weight.
Decreasing your risk of stroke
Talk to your doctor about your BMI and WHR. With your health providers, develop a healthy eating plan and exercise program to bring your weight into a healthy range and decrease or possibly even reverse metabolic syndrome and other health conditions associated with being overweight. Enlist the support of loved ones to help you stick to your plan.
If you are at a high risk of stroke, talk to your doctor about using Neuralert stroke detection wristbands as an important safeguard so that you can have an early warning signal of the onset of a stroke. Our state-of-the-art, AI-driven technology wristbands look like a smartwatch and can detect warning signs of a stroke within minutes. Ask your doctor about adding Neuralert’s stroke detection wristbands to your health program.