Fat but fit? New research debunks ‘healthy obesity’ theory

Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 file photo.
Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 file photo. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

TORONTO – Is it possible to be fit but fat? While theories suggest that there is “healthy obesity,” new British research is debunking that controversial notion.

Obesity is typically a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, among other conditions. If you’re obese and haven’t shown signs of any of these conditions, researchers say give it time. Within 20 years, the excess weight will catch up with your health, according to University College London scientists who call healthy obesity theories “misleading.”

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“A core assumption of healthy obesity has been that it is stable over time, but we can now see that healthy obese adults tend to become unhealthy obese in the long-term,” according to lead author Joshua Bell.

“Healthy obesity is only a state of relative health – it’s just less unhealthy than the worst-case scenario,” he warned.

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The study’s based on more than 2,500 people – men and women between 39 and 62 – whose health was tracked for 20 years. Their body mass index, cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin levels were all measured.

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People who fell under the “healthy obesity” category were considered obese without any present risk factors.

But within the two-decade time frame, more than 51 per cent of the healthy obese participants joined their unhealthy obese counterparts. Another 11 per cent lost weight and weren’t obese at all.

The remaining 38 per cent stayed as “healthy obese” while six per cent of healthy people gained weight and fell into the unhealthy obese category.

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It happened gradually, too: At the five-year mark, 32 per cent of the healthy obese became unhealthy. Within a decade, the number grew to 41 per cent and by the 20-year mark, 51 per cent developed risk factors for chronic disease.

The researchers say this is good reason to avoid weight gain. Your health may be fine, but chronic conditions will creep up on you, they warn.

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By 2019, Canadian researchers say that 21 per cent of us will be obese, with a spike in the “very obese” category. In 1985, obesity rates sat at six per cent. By 2011, they were at 18 per cent, according to a Memorial University study published last year.

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