People who fear heart disease may be overly concerned with their cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, but these risk factors take a back seat to obesity, HealthDay reported.

“Obesity plays a role in almost all the coronary risk factors,” said Vincent Bufalino, MD, a spokesman for the American Heart Association. The condition has put more people at risk for developing heart disease both on its own and by raising blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels and by increasing your chances of developing diabetes—all major risk factors for heart disease.

During the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, experts presented a study showing that obesity was raising blood pressure and blood sugar levels in adults. As a result, obesity jeopardizes any progress doctors make controlling these heart disease risk factors.

But there’s good news. Extensive research proves that people who lose weight and keep it off also significantly reduce their risk factors for heart disease.

“In all three categories––cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose––sustained weight loss will improve those numbers,” Bufalino said.

Weight loss helps increase good cholesterol. It can also bring diabetes under control or eliminate its onset.

To reduce the chances of developing heart disease, doctors suggest the following:

   • Control your calorie intake with a healthy diet.
   • Eat more vegetables and fruit, leaner cuts of meat and fish.
   • Choose whole grain breads and pastas.
   • Eliminate sugary soft drinks and fruit juices from your diet.

Once you start to lose pounds with a reduced calorie intake, maintain your weight with regular exercise.

Bufalino suggested people drop 10 pounds in a six-month period then build on this success.

“If you get a 10 percent weight loss, that’s a successful effort to control your weight problem,” Bufalino said.

Click here to learn how keeping a food diary can help you eat fewer calories.