Ah, to be greatly overweight and have none of those troublesome health issues like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Not only that, but to be greatly overweight and have no markers that point toward diabetes. Wouldn’t that be great? Well, there are those among us who have such good fortune. Researchers refer to them as the metabolically healthy obese.
The Healthy Obese
Those who make up the unhealthy obese have the problem of accumulating fat in organs where it does not belong, such as the liver and heart. Studies imply that fatty livers may be one of the causes of insulin resistance, which is the central flaw in type 2 diabetes.
The healthy obese do not gain fat in the liver, and maintain metabolic health. The fat in the healthy obese stays just beneath the skin, where it is (generally) harmless.
In order to explore the possibility of healthy obesity further, researchers recruited 16 pairs of identical twins where one twin was obese and the other was not. The twins were divided into two groups. In one group, obese siblings had higher blood pressure, worse cholesterol levels, worse measures of insulin production, and seven times the amount of fat in their livers.
In the other group, obese siblings had blood work and liver fat that was similar to their normal weight twins. These healthy obese twins also had 11 percent more fat cells in their subcutaneous fat cells than their normal weight siblings.
Some estimates suggest that as many as one-third of all obese people qualify as healthy obese.
But Not So Fast
Although there is some intrigue about all this, more current research disputes the claim that it is unlikely that someone can be healthily obese.
Canadian researchers carefully reviewed the combined data from eight previous studies and came to the conclusion that healthy obesity is a myth. A review of the studies that followed subjects for 10 years showed that even those who were metabolically immaculate were still at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
Focusing on people who were metabolically healthy, researchers found that the metabolically healthy obese had an increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and death by 24 percent. The different conclusion reached by Canadian researchers might be attributed to having looked at different data and long-term outcomes.
The new study suggests that excess weight can shorten the life span, even if cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar are in healthy bounds. Good metabolic numbers are not enough armor against the ill effects of fat. The conclusions reached in the new study coordinates with previous studies that maintain that fat alone presents a risk for heart disease.
So back to basics: If you are overweight, you might want to take off a few pounds and have a conversation with your doctor. Some exercise can also be useful. It is no secret that people who are physically fit are healthier than those who are not.
Living life well-fed,
My Bariatric Life
Published On: January 03, 2014