Why Some Overweight People May Be Safe From Chronic Disease

healthy obesity 3 4

There is a growing global body positivity movement to combat the stigma and prejudice that overweight and obese individuals face. Some of this stigma arises from the perception that obese individuals are unhealthy.

However, weight is only one of the metrics that medical professionals use to assess overall health. In fact, some studies have demonstrated that a significant number of obese people are metabolically healthy, leading to the contention that one could be healthy at any size. This phenomenon is referred to as metabolically healthy obesity (MHO). Research is now starting to explore what this means.

A person who is MHO has healthy blood pressure, normal levels of blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and normal blood sugar. Having high values of one or more of these measures significantly increases one’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Healthy diets provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that help achieve a healthy metabolic profile. (Shutterstock)

It has been proposed that metabolically healthy obese individuals might be protected against obesity-related diseases. The extent of this protection has been controversial within the scientific community, and this is partly because we still don’t have a standardized definition of MHO.

So, over the past few years, researchers have gone to work to find out who can be defined as MHO, and to what extent people with MHO are protected from chronic disease.

Emerging consensus

Several large population studies have been initiated towards this end. So far, results show that, indeed, more rigorous definitions of MHO are needed. This can be achieved by including other measures of health such as insulin resistance and blood markers of inflammation. Insulin resistance is when the body does not respond well to the insulin hormone that helps to take up sugar from the bloodstream for use as a fuel for energy. This leads to elevated blood sugar and the consequent health complications.

An emerging consensus has been that although MHO individuals show some protection from chronic disease, they still seem to be significantly less protected than those who are metabolically healthy and lean.

The fact that people with MHO still have a relatively higher disease risk led some researchers to suggest that the term “metabolically healthy obesity” could be a misnomer. Moreover, a majority of the MHO population tends to progress towards “metabolically unhealthy obesity” or MUO over a number of years, leading to enhanced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other disorders linked with obesity.

This leads to another question: is MHO truly protective over an entire lifetime, or is it just a question of time before MUO sets in, making MHO a transient state?

Protective factors

One factor to consider that might differentiate metabolically healthy versus unhealthy obesity is how fat is distributed in the body. A genetic predisposition for depositing fat under the skin, called subcutaneous fat, seems to play a protective role.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

People with this predisposition are mostly premenopausal women who accumulate subcutaneous body fat in the hips rather than the waist (pear-shaped). They are better protected against diabetes and cardiovascular disease compared to people whose body fat is located more in the abdomen (apple-shaped).

In contrast, obese individuals with a high waist circumference show excessive fat deposition in the abdomen and a pro-inflammatory state that leads to insulin resistance, which can be a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers have also looked at the lifestyle habits that differentiate MHO from MUO individuals to see if development of metabolically unhealthy obesity can be prevented.

One factor is exercise. People with MHO are involved in regular physical activity to a greater extent than MUO individuals. The other is diet. Although dietary studies show mixed results, it seems that MHO people consume healthier diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fish, fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, legumes, extra virgin olive oil and nuts.

Healthy diets provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that help achieve a healthy metabolic profile. Indeed, of the MHO population, those who follow the Mediterranean diet seem to have lower mortality rates. Adopting these healthy lifestyle habits could help prevent the trajectory of metabolically healthy obesity moving towards metabolically unhealthy obesity over the course of a lifetime.

Is metabolically healthy obesity real?

So is MHO real and does it protect against disease? There isn’t a yes or no answer yet. The more we learn about it, the more nuance is injected into the concept that one can be perfectly healthy at any size. Based on the information we have so far, only a narrow segment of obese individuals are without risk of developing obesity-related chronic diseases.

We also know a lot more about their characteristics. They have less abdominal fat and more subcutaneous fat. They have less insulin resistance, less inflammation and a metabolically healthy cardiovascular profile. They also have healthy lifestyle habits such as regular exercise and a healthy diet. It seems that genetics play a role as well.

We can expect more insight from major international population studies and clinical trials that are currently underway. But in the meantime, the age-old advice holds truer than ever: regular physical activity and a healthy diet are crucial to maintain health and longevity.The Conversation

About The Authors

Stan Kubow, Associate Professor, School of Human Nutrition, McGill University and Michele Iskandar, Research Associate and Lecturer, School of Human Nutrition, McGill University

Recommended Books: Health

Fresh Fruit CleanseFresh Fruit Cleanse: Detox, Lose Weight and Restore Your Health with Nature's Most Delicious Foods [Paperback] by Leanne Hall.
Lose weight and feel vibrantly healthy while clearing your body of toxins. Fresh Fruit Cleanse offers everything you need for an easy and powerful detox, including day-by-day programs, mouth-watering recipes, and advice for transitioning off the cleanse.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Thrive FoodsThrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health [Paperback] by Brendan Brazier.
Building upon the stress-reducing, health-boosting nutritional philosophy introduced in his acclaimed vegan nutrition guide Thrive, professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier now turns his attention to your dinner plate (breakfast bowl and lunch tray too).
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Death by Medicine by Gary NullDeath by Medicine by Gary Null, Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and Carolyn Dean
The medical environment has become a labyrinth of interlocking corporate, hospital, and governmental boards of directors, infiltrated by the drug companies. The most toxic substances are often approved first, while milder and more natural alternatives are ignored for financial reasons. It's death by medicine.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration




baseball player w;ith white hair
Can We Be Too Old?
by Barry Vissell
We all know the expression, "You're as old as you think or feel." Too many people give up on…
climate change and flooding 7 30
Why Climate Change Is Making Flooding Worse
by Frances Davenport
Although floods are a natural occurrence, human-caused climate change is making severe flooding…
made to wear a mask 7 31
Will We Only Act On Public Health Advice If Someone Makes Us?
by Holly Seale, UNSW Sydney
Back in mid 2020, it was suggested mask use was similar to seat belt wearing in cars. Not everyone…
inflation around the world 8 1
Inflation Is Spiking Around The World
by Christopher Decker
The 9.1% increase in U.S. consumer prices in the 12 months ending in June 2022, the highest in four…
coffee good or bad 7 31
Mixed Messages: Is Coffee Good Or Bad For Us?
by Thomas Merritt
Coffee is good for you. Or it’s not. Maybe it is, then it isn’t, then it is again. If you drink…
is it covid or hay fecer 8 7
Here’s How To Tell If It's Covid or Hay Fever
by Samuel J. White, and Philippe B. Wilson
With warm weather in the northern hemisphere, many people will be suffering from pollen allergies.…
changing peoples minds 8 3
Why It’s Hard To Challenge Someone’s False Beliefs
by Lara Millman
Most people think they acquire their beliefs using a high standard of objectivity. But recent…
sage smudge sticks, feathers, and a dreamcatcher
Cleansing, Grounding, and Protecting: Two Foundational Practices
by MaryAnn DiMarco
Many cultures have a ritualistic cleansing practice, often done with smoke or water, to help remove…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.