After controlling for other factors, hypertension risk increases as excess fat tissue increases, according to the data from a recent epidemiological study. The more overweight you are, the greater your blood pressure, all other things being equal. Hypertension is no small thing: raised blood pressure damages delicate tissue throughout the body, such as via ruptures in tiny blood vessels in the brain, and it leads to the growth and weakening of heart muscle that ends in heart failure. Hypertension also accelerates the progression of atherosclerosis, and it raises the risk that blood vessels compromised by atherosclerotic plaque will rupture, causing a fatal stroke or heart attack.
It isn’t hard to suggest mechanisms that might link visceral fat tissue to hypertension. Visceral fat produces chronic inflammation through a range of mechanisms: inflammatory signaling by fat cells; greater numbers of inflammatory senescent cells; the creation of oxidized lipids; debris from dead fat cells; and more. Chronic inflammation in turn is thought to impair the operation of smooth muscle responsible for constriction and relaxation of blood vessels. When blood vessels cannot react to the environment as well as they should, when they stiffen, then hypertension follows. This seems the most plausible mechanistic link between weight, aging, and blood pressure.
The present study was undertaken to provide a better insight into the relationship between different levels of body mass index (BMI) and changing risk for hypertension, using an unselected sample of participants assessed during the Longevity Check-up 7+ (Lookup 7+) project. Lookup 7+ is an ongoing cross-sectional survey started in June 2015 and conducted in unconventional settings (i.e., exhibitions, malls, and health promotion campaigns) across Italy. Candidate participants are eligible for enrollment if they are at least 18 years of age and provide written informed consent. Specific health metrics are assessed through a brief questionnaire and direct measurement of standing height, body weight, blood glucose, total blood cholesterol, and blood pressure.
The present analyses were conducted in 7907 community-living adults. According to the BMI cutoffs recommended by the World Health Organization, overweight status was observed among 2896 (38%) participants; the obesity status was identified in 1135 participants (15%), with 893 (11.8%) participants in class I, 186 (2.5%) in class II, and 56 (0.7%) in class III. Among enrollees with a normal BMI, the prevalence of hypertension was 45% compared with 67% among overweight participants, 79% in obesity class I and II, and up to 87% among participants with obesity class III. After adjusting for age, significantly different distributions of systolic and diastolic blood pressure across BMI levels were consistent. Overall, the average systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure increased significantly and linearly across BMI levels. In conclusion, we found a gradient of increasing blood pressure with higher levels of BMI. The fact that this gradient is present even in the fully adjusted analyses suggests that BMI may cause a direct effect on blood pressure, independent of other clinical risk factors.