Obesity is a struggle many of us are all too familiar with. In fact, according to the CDC, nearly 93 million Americans – that’s 40 percent of the U.S. adult population – are obese, and even more are overweight. However, a new Heart Month survey from Cleveland Clinic suggests that while many Americans are concerned about their own weight, or that of a loved one, they aren’t quite grasping the consequences of the extra pounds – especially for our hearts.

While 88 percent of those surveyed understand that there is a connection between a healthy heart and a healthy weight, 80 percent of respondents didn’t know excess weight was associated with atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm disorder, and more than half didn’t know weight contributed to  high “bad” cholesterol levels or coronary artery disease. Also worrying, less than half of Americans (43 percent) said they have tried to make dietary changes to lose weight and 40 percent of those who described themselves as overweight or obese said they aren’t careful about the foods they eat.

Weight and heart disease

This comes as the evidence linking heart disease and weight is strengthened. Last year, Cleveland Clinic published a genetic analysis of more than 800,000 patients that concluded it is not solely factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or lack of exercise that come with obesity that are harmful – the excess fat itself is also dangerous. It showed that each five-point rise in BMI, for example, from a BMI of 25 to a BMI of 30, increased the odds of Type 2 diabetes by 67 percent and coronary artery disease by 20 percent – independent of traditional risk factors.

Heart disease is still the number one killer in the United States for both men and women, accounting for nearly 1 in every 4 deaths. While the effects of obesity can be scary, patients don’t have to lose a ton of weight before being rewarded for the effort. After losing just 5 percent of their body weight, people can start seeing important health benefits, which can motivate them to continue their weight-loss efforts. It’s best to work closely with your physician to find a steady, long-term weight loss plan that can benefit you and your heart.