Healthy obesity: fact or fiction?

By Laura Mize • Published: March 21st, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Is excess weight unhealthy?

Most people would say yes, reciting the well-known list of negative health effects extra pounds bring: unhealthful cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar. Together, this trio of harmful factors amounts to poor metabolic health.

The tricky thing is, not everyone who is obese has these problems. It’s a strange, little-understood phenomenon, but some people who are obese actually have normal levels of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Conversely, some people who maintain a healthful weight have bad metabolic health.

Some people have taken hold of this inconsistency and promoted the concept of “healthy obesity.” They say obesity doesn’t necessarily mean poor health, and that some people are well despite it. But researchers from the University of Toronto say the idea is just plain wrong.

They analyzed results from 12 previous studies examining death and cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes. Study participants included people who were overweight, obese and normal weight, with metabolically healthy and unhealthy people in each category.

After reviewing all of these studies together, the researchers found the obese people did have a greater risk of serious cardiovascular incidents or death than people of normal weight. The increased risk was consistent even among obese people with good metabolic health. The overview study also revealed that poor metabolic health increased the risk of these negative consequences, even among people who were not overweight.

It looks like the lesson here is not a new one: being obese is pretty bad for your health. Less-than-optimum levels of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure are problematic, too, even if they don’t always go hand-in-hand with excess weight.