JUL 24, 2018 4:20 AM PDT

Can You Be Obese and Metabolically Healthy?

Experts in the medical field, nutrition and fitness professionals and health educators all advise against the dangers of becoming overweight. They cite an "obesity epidemic," and it's true that health problems that can go along with obesity, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are on the rise.

However new research from York University in the UK suggests that patients who have obesity, but no other metabolic disorders are not at a higher risk for early death based on just their weight.

Any doctor will tell you that being overweight, to the point of obesity, is a health risk. Obese patients are at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer. The realization that obesity, absent other metabolic disorders, is not, in itself, a problem that could cause an early death is significant for the research on weight management. Dr. Jennifer Kuk is an associate professor at the School of Kinesiology and Health Science at York and the lead author of the work. She explained, "This is in contrast with most of the literature, and we think this is because most studies have defined metabolic healthy obesity as having up to one metabolic risk factor. This is clearly problematic, as hypertension alone increases your mortality risk and past literature would have called these patients with obesity and hypertension, 'healthy.' This is likely why most studies have reported that 'healthy' obesity is still related to higher mortality risk."

The study had 54,089 men and women participating from five other studies. They grouped them by disorder, having just obesity or just a metabolic disorder as well as having some combination of obesity and other metabolic issues. The group's rate of death was compared to those in an average healthy population, with no metabolic conditions and average weight. Currently, the health guidelines for weight management say that anyone with a BMI over 30kg/m2 is unhealthy, but the research did not bear this out as far as mortality risk. The numbers in this study showed that 1 in 20 obese patients have no other metabolic issues.

Dr. Kuk summarized the work, writing, "We're showing that individuals with metabolically healthy obesity are actually not at an elevated mortality rate. We found that a person of normal weight with no other metabolic risk factors is just as likely to die as the person with obesity and no other risk factors. This means that hundreds of thousands of people in North America alone with metabolically healthy obesity will be told to lose weight when it's questionable how much benefit they'll actually receive." The work is published in the journal Clinical Obesity. Check out the video below from York University to hear more from Dr. Kuk.

Sources: York University Clinical Obesity

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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