Normal Weight Obesity: Thin with High Body Fat Percentage

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • The Mayo Clinic recently coined a new term to diagnose a subset of obese patients.  They are actually "normal weight" but their body fat percentage is too high.  This relatively new term follows another recently coined term TOFI which means, thin on the outside, fat on the inside.  It was created to describe a phenomenon where a patient could appear slim, even thin and yet internally have deposits of fat surrounding important organs like the kidneys and the liver.  This visceral fat is considered quite dangerous because it is implicated as a serious risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, strokes, cancer and other health conditions.  And yet, if you would see the person, physically they appear relatively healthy.  Now an even newer diagnosis, normal weight obesity, hits the diagnostic scene. 

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    So it's important to realize that size may not be the only way to assess health. It's also important to realize that though a visual assessment can indeed determine if someone is overweight or even obese, the fact that someone appears to be healthy or slim does not necessarily mean that they are healthy and without risk of disease.  Another subset of the population has what lay people call, "pot belly, beer belly, mini-pregnancy, hefty waist."  Health experts call it abdominal fat and it directly correlates to a risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer.  That's why when you go to the doctor they now take a waist measurement as one of your vital signs.  If your waist size is over 35 inches (female) or 40 inches (male), then you indeed have a strong risk factor for a lifestyle-related disease. 

     

    Among the Mayo Clinic "normal weight obesity" findings- these men and women had a four-fold increase risk of metabolic syndrome, and women specifically had a significantly elevated risk of heart disease.  Both men and women had an associated high total cholesterol level and both groups were also more likely to develop hypertension.  Researchers therefore decided that though BMI has a place in evaluating a person's health risks, waist size and also neck size may have equal import. The Mayo Clinic findings should also spur gyms and personal trainers to be vigilant when assessing a person - looking for the presence of belly fat, as well as taking a series of body measurements. 

     

    What is the take away message? Well we know that restricting calories can help you to lose weight, but you may end up losing important lean muscle tissue along with the fat you want to lose.  So incorporating a weight training program into a lifestyle change that already includes dietary changes and aerobic exercise can help a normal weight obese person to lose mostly the dangerous fat in their belly or around their organs, while preserving muscle.  It also means that even if the scale presents a healthy weight, you need to really look at your body shape, to see if you indeed carry your minimal excess weight, in your waist/stomach area.

Published On: February 17, 2010