Metabolic Syndrome: The Silent Epidemic

Serious condition is linked to obesity, lack of exercise

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Call it a silent epidemic. An estimated one in four adults is afflicted with the condition known as metabolic syndrome, and many of them don't even know it.

Obesity and lack of exercise are key components of this dangerous condition, which puts you at risk of developing serious health problems. That makes metabolic syndrome yet another reason to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

According to the National Cholesterol Education Panel, if you have at least three of the following characteristics, you're classified as having metabolic syndrome:

  • Excess fat around the waist (a waist size of 40 inches or more for men, and 35 inches or more for women)
  • Triglyceride levels of 150 or higher
  • HDL (good cholesterol) of less than 40 in men and 50 in women
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or higher
  • Fasting blood sugar of 110 or more

The clustering of these traits has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. And the more of them you have, the greater your risk.

Studies have shown that people with metabolic syndrome are at triple the risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke than those without the risk factors. Further, those with metabolic syndrome have a quadrupled risk of developing diabetes.

It's very important to "know your numbers'': your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. That's because even someone who is only mildly overweight -- but who carries the extra fat around their middle and has mild high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar -- is at risk.