Study Reports That “Fat but Fit” Is Not an Oxymoron

While there is an almost constant media drumbeat about the dangers of obesity and overweight, it’s a pleasure to learn that not everyone who is overweight is in bad health or runs the risk of it.

A research team at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, has reported that “fat but fit” people run as low a risk of cardiovascular events or death as normal weight individuals. In the study, which looked at the body fat levels of more than 43,000 adults, “metabolic health”

was defined as having no more than one component of metabolic syndrome. The researchers found that 30.8 percent of obese patients as defined by body mass index and 46.3 percent of patients as defined by body fat percentage were metabolically healthy.

Dr. Francisco Ortega, who led the study team, says that obese people who are fit run a 30 percent to 50 percent lower risk of mortality and morbidity than unfit obese people. In fact, he says, there is no difference in the prognosis for death or disease between fit normal-weight people and fit obese people.

One interesting aspect of the study involved what the researchers call “skinny-fat” patients. These are patients who have a normal BMI but exhibit symptoms usually associated with metabolically unfit obese people: insulin resistance, a predisposition to coronary heart disease, elevated triglycerides, and a predisposition to type 2 diabetes.

The study was published online in the September 5, 2012, issue of the European Heart Journal. A National Institutes of Health article also discusses the study.

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