Scientists and Medical professionals have recently been interesting in the idea that someone can be healthy but obese. This so called Healthy Obesity refers to individuals who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more who do not exhibit any abnormal metabolic health markers. A recent study by the University of Birmingham might show that the concept of healthy obesity is a myth, at least in the long term.
Obesity is a rising problem across the World. In America alone more than 1/3rd of adults are considered to be obese and 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity. There are many causes for obesity, ranging from overeating to sedentary lifestyles and even genetics. Due to the fact that there are many causes for Obesity it is difficult to treat and people are naturally sensitive to any topic involving weight.
What evidence is there that you can be healthy but obese?
Obesity brings a number of risks with it, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis and a number of cancers. Given the health risks and the huge increase in the cases of Obesity it makes sense that medical professionals are trying to understand why some individuals seem to be healthy but obese.
Some of these studies have shown that there is some evidence for the idea. A study published on January 2nd in the Journal of Clinical investigation asked both “metabolically normal” obese individuals and “metabolically abnormal” obese individual to gain weight. The study showed that “normal” participants maintained their metabolic health, where as “abnormal” individuals continued to deteriorate. If a participant was healthy before the trial then they were healthy after it.
Other studies have focused on how to classify individuals who are obese and healthy. Arguing that individuals who are healthy but obese should not be placed into a major disease category. This could reduce unnecessary medical interventions and allow resources to be focused on more at risk patients.
The problem is, if healthy obesity is a myth then these studies are encouraging a dangerous way of life and more resources will need to be pumped into efforts to combat obesity.
What does Bristol’s study say?
Bristol’s study is the largest of its kind ever undertaken. A team from the institute of applied health research analyzed the GP records of 3.5 million people from across the UK from 1995 until 2015. The team used these records to look for markers of “healthy Obesity”; Being metabolically healthy, having normal blood pressure and cholesterol and no diabetes, while also being obese.
They then tracked how many individuals who were healthy but obese suffered one of four cardiovascular conditions: Coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, heart failure and peripheral vascular disease.
The results were pretty startling. Compared to healthy people of a normal weight, individuals who were “healthy but obese” had a 49% increased risk of coronary heart disease, a 7% higher risk of stroke and a 96% increased risk of heart failure.
These results agree with some previously conducted studies. They are interesting because they show that while an individual can technically be healthy but obese, in reality they are dramatically increasing their risks of various illnesses further down the line. In other words, an individual can be healthy and obese, but only for so long.
The implication of these studies is that we need to shift our focus away from identifying healthy but obese individuals and instead focus efforts on encouraging a healthy lifestyle and weight loss, otherwise we could be facing a medical time bomb.