Obese people can be healthy

Researchers say it's possible to be fit and fat. Photo credit: maya picture. Researchers say it's possible to be fit and fat. Photo credit: maya picture.

Here’s some news to justify having (and not caring about) some extra pounds: Being fat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unhealthy.

New research finds that people can be obese yet physically healthy, while having no greater risk for heart disease or cancer than people of normal weight.

“It is well known that obesity is linked to a large number of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular problems and cancer. However, there appears to be a sub-set of obese people who seem to be protected from obesity-related metabolic complications,” lead study author Francisco Ortega said in a statement. “They may have greater cardio-respiratory fitness than other obese individuals, but, until now, it was not known the extent to which these metabolically healthy but obese people are at lower risk of diseases or premature death.”

Researchers analyzed data from 43,265 participants in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, which was done between 1979 and 2003.

About 30 percent of the study participants were labeled obese. Of the obese, nearly half were considered “metabolically healthy.” Metabolic health is determined by several factors including high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high fasting glucose levels.

Researchers found that the metabolically healthy but obese participants had a 38 percent lower risk of dying than their metabolically unhealthy peers. There was also no risk difference between the metabolically healthy obese and the metabolically healthy normal weight participants.

The results were published this week in the European Heart Journal.

"Physicians should take into consideration that not all obese people have the same prognosis,” Ortega said. “Physicians could assess fitness, fatness and metabolic markers to do a better estimation of the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer of obese patients. Our data support the idea that interventions might be more urgently needed in metabolically unhealthy and unfit obese people, since they are at a higher risk. This research highlights once again the important role of physical fitness as a health marker.”

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