Ask an Expert: Will Losing Weight Lower My Heart Disease Risk?

This article is part of Health Divide: Heart Disease Risk Factors, a destination in our Health Divide series.

Ask an expert headshot of Dr. Shepherd

Xiaoyu Liu / Verywell

Meet the Expert

Jessica Shepherd MD, MBA, FACOG is a board-certified OB-GYN and the Chief Medical Officer for Verywell Health. She is the founder and CEO of Sanctum Med + Wellness, a wellness concierge practice, and is affiliated with Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.

Verywell Health: Will losing weight lower my heart disease risk?

Dr. Shepherd: Health behaviors and interventions are unique to different groups, including different races and genders. Therefore, we have to be sensitive to the fact that lifestyle factors and access to a certain heart-healthy lifestyle is not the same for everyone.

The attitude towards heart disease requires careful development and dissemination of information. This influences how people perceive their disease risk and their knowledge of risk factors that contribute to heart disease. What is most important for people to understand is how they can play an active part in determining their risk.

Obesity plays a significant role in the risk of developing heart disease, as well as the severity of heart disease. Obesity is influenced by food intake, quality of food, and portion size. All of these are impacted by where people live and what they have access to.

Food is heavily influenced by culture and beliefs. For example, many foods commonly eaten by Black Americans are rooted in their cultural environment, but also what has actually been available to them over time. To now flip the switch and say that kind of food is bad creates a negative attitude that doesn’t necessarily inspire people to change dietary habits.

Science tells us that certain foods can lead to heart disease, including:

  • Fast food
  • Highly-processed food 
  • Foods with high levels of high-fructose corn syrup, white flour, and sugar

All of these foods are commonly eaten in communities with socioeconomic disparities because of their low cost, availability, and convenience.

We need a foundational change that addresses racism in health care and focuses on improving access to healthier food options in these communities. This will not only affect obesity, but stress levels as well.

So, if you’ve been told that you are at risk for heart disease and need to lose weight, that is true. Losing weight will reduce your risk. But this is often easier said than done given all these factors and the context of your lifestyle. We need to focus on realistic and culturally sensitive ways to address heart disease prevention.

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  1. Anand SS, Hawkes C, de Souza RJ, et al. Food consumption and its impact on cardiovascular disease: importance of solutions focused on the globalized food system. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66(14):1590-1614. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2015.07.050