A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has added to the growing pile of evidence which suggests that people can be healthy regardless of how much they weigh. The study found that obese individuals are no more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease (CVD) or experience early death than normal weight individuals. Meaning, it's time to lay off overweight people, and broaden our thinking about the relationship between weight and health.
Researchers studied the association between metabolically healthy obesity and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. 22,203 men and women from Scotland and England were recruited and classified as healthy or unhealthy based on blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL), diabetes diagnosis, waist circumference, and low-grade inflammation. Participants were then followed for an average of 7 years to assess cause-specific mortality.
Compared to their normal weight counterparts, metabolically healthy obese participants were not at higher risk for CVD. However, both normal weight and obese individuals with two or more metabolic abnormalities had similar elevated risk for CVD. In sum, "People with good metabolic health are not at risk of future heart disease -- even if they are obese," says Mark Hamer, a University College London researcher who worked on the study.
Previous research has reached similar conclusions. As a 2009 editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine put it, "... obese men who were moderately/highly fit had less than half the risk of dying than the normal-weight men who were unfit." A 2010 study also found that middle-aged men who engage in regular exercise are less likely to suffer an early death independent of their Body Mass Index.
With all the current talk about the dangers of obesity, these results seem counter-intuitive. But, as I've written before on PolicyMic, that's because body weight has never been a reliable indicator of overall health. This certainly isn't an excuse for unhealthy living; good eating habits and exercise are as important as ever, but it's time we get over our phobia of fatness.