Taking medication for obesity-related problems such as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes — all risk factors for heart disease — might not be enough to prevent cardiovascular problems in those who are overweight or obese, according to a new study. The fact of the matter is, according to experts, people also need to shed excess pounds.

The fact of the matter is... people also need to shed excess pounds.

Ten years ago, it was widely believed that the cardiovascular risks imposed by obesity could be reduced by medications, explained Dr. Gregory L. Burke, director of the division of public health sciences at Wake Forest University School of medicine in Winston-Salem, NC and lead author of the study. "People thought that, 'Gosh, all we need to do is treat those risk factors and we can ameliorate the effects of obesity'. So, our study looked at whether that is indeed true," he said.

Instead, the study revealed that among the 6,814 participants aged 45 to 84 who were obese or overweight, many had subtle physical signs predictive of future cardiovascular disease, such as thickening of the walls of the carotid artery — despite the use of various medications.

Americans tend to believe that "if I just take those pills, I'll be OK," said Lona Sandon, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. The study "kind of says you have to make some changes, some lifestyle changes and some food changes, to lead to a healthier weight."

According to Sandon, prevention — not handing out pills — is the key to improving risk for heart disease. Not only does this mean a healthier diet, but also exercise.