Campus & Community

Obese women two times more likely to have a stroke

3 min read

Preventing weight gain may help prevent stroke in women

A long-awaited federally funded study conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) recently announced that taking an aspirin a day helps women prevent one of the nation’s leading causes of disability – stroke. Now, another team of BWH researchers has more stroke prevention advice that may have an even greater impact on reducing incidence of this common disease, one that strikes every 45 seconds in the United States. A new study of more than 39,000 women confirms that maintaining a healthy weight may be one of the most effective ways to prevent a stroke.
The study, led by epidemiologist Tobias Kurth of BWH’s Division of Preventive Medicine, is published in the April 18 issue of the journal Circulation.

“The news about aspirin’s effects on stroke prevention has been widely publicized, possibly because many people are looking for a ‘magic bullet,’ but aspirin alone is no single cure for stroke prevention,” said Kurth. “What our study confirms is that preventing excessive weight gain and obesity can be an even more powerful tool, in addition to aspirin, to stop strokes, and, it is a safe remedy all women can adopt.”

In this study, researchers examined data reported by more than 39,000 middle-aged women who answered questionnaires about body mass index (BMI) and the incidence of stroke, along with other lifestyle habits over a 10-year period. The analysis showed that BMI was a strong risk factor for stroke. Specifically, each unit of BMI was associated with a 4 percent increase in total stroke and a 5 percent increase in the most common form of the disease, ischemic stroke. Interestingly, the results did not differ according to smoking status or the amount a woman exercised.

“Our analysis revealed that obese women are two times more likely to suffer from a stroke compared to healthy weight women and this did not change based on whether or not women smoked or how often they exercised,” noted Kurth. “This means that no matter how healthy a woman attempts to be in other areas of her life, if she is overweight or obese, she faces an elevated stroke risk.”

The researchers believe, based on their latest study (and others that support the findings), obesity should be considered an established primary risk factor for stroke.

Each year approximately 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke and the disease strikes nearly 40,000 more women than men. According to BWH researchers, approximately 59 million Americans are overweight or obese and the numbers are growing as the percentage of overweight and obese children has doubled since the 1980s.