New Study Claims It's Not Healthy to Be 'Fit but Fat'

·3-min read
Photo credit: Lina Moiseienko - Getty Images
Photo credit: Lina Moiseienko - Getty Images

A new study has found that people who are best defined as 'fit but fat' are at an increased risk of suffering from obesity-related health issues.

Fit but fat is a colloquial term for metabolically healthy obesity (MHO). People categorised as MHO have a body mass index of 30 or higher, but don't have the systemic inflammation, problematic blood fats or insulin issues often seen with obesity.

A study by University of Glasgow researchers has found that when compared with metabolically healthy people who aren't medically obese, people with MHO are 4.3 times more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes, 18% more likely to suffer heart attack or stroke and, incredibly, their risk of heart failure is increased by 76%.

“People with metabolically healthy obesity were at a substantially higher risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke, heart failure, respiratory diseases and all-cause mortality compared with people who were not obese and with a healthy metabolic profile," said Dr Frederick Ho, research associate of public health at the University of Glasgow.

For the study, the researchers monitored 381,363 individuals who fell into one of four categories: metabolically healthy obese (MHO), metabolically unhealthy obese (MUO), metabolically healthy non-obese (MHN) or metabolically unhealthy non-obese (MUN).

It was discovered that MHO individuals were generally younger, watched less television, exercised more, had higher education levels, a lower deprivation index, higher red and processed meat intake and were less likely to be male and non-white than participants who were metabolically unhealthy obese.

But despite that, being metabolically unhealthy still put them at a greater risk of suffering from various obesity-related issues.

“Generally, rates of cardiovascular and respiratory outcomes were highest in MUO, followed by MUN and MHO, except for incident and fatal heart failure, and incident respiratory diseases. For these outcomes, people with MHO had higher rates than those with MUN," said Ho.

Additionally, the researchers also found that amongst a subset of participants for whom they had follow-up metabolic and obesity data, a third of those with metabolically healthy obesity at the beginning of the study became metabolically unhealthy within 3 to 5 years.

“People with metabolically healthy obesity are not ‘healthy’ as they are at higher risk of heart attack and stroke, heart failure, and respiratory diseases compared with people without obesity who have a normal metabolic profile," said Ho.

“Weight management could be beneficial to all people with obesity irrespective of their metabolic profile. The term ‘metabolically healthy obesity’ should be avoided in clinical medicine as it is misleading, and different strategies for defining risk should be explored,” he added.

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