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‘Fat but fit’ people still at risk of heart disease: study

fat but fit myth
A new study suggests those who are overweight but without the usual risk factors may still face a higher possibility of heart disease. Getty Images

You may be “healthy” on paper, but a new study suggests people who are overweight are still at risk of developing heart disease.

The findings, which were recently published in European Heart Journal on Monday, found overweight and obese patients — who still had healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels — were 28 per cent more likely to develop coronary heart disease (CDH), CNN reports.

“Our findings suggest that if a patient is overweight or obese, all efforts should be made to help them get back to a healthy weight, regardless of other factors. Even if their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol appear within the normal range, excess weight is still a risk factor,” lead author Dr. Camille Lassale, of University College London, said in a statement.

“Overall, our findings challenge the concept of the ‘healthy obese’. The research shows that those overweight individuals who appear to be otherwise healthy are still at increased risk of heart disease.”

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READ MORE: Study finds most men and women are ‘overfat’ — here’s what this means

The research

The study used data of more than half a million people in 10 different countries in Europe, and later followed up with 7,637 adults who had CHD after a 12-year period. Authors also looked at their body mass indexes (BMI).

“Participants were categorized as ‘unhealthy’ if they had three or more of a number of metabolic markers, including high blood pressure, blood glucose, or triglyceride levels, low levels of HDL cholesterol, or a waist size of more than 37” (94 cm) for men and 31” (80 cm) for women,” the research noted.

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Previous studies have found similar claims. In May, researchers from the U.K., said the “healthy obese” people were not as healthy as they thought, and they also had a higher risk of heart disease (compared to average-weight people), CBS reports.

Another 2015 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found obese people who exercised regularly were still more likely to die before those who were slim and unfit, the Telegraph reports.

READ MORE: Canadian obesity rates continue to climb, Saskatchewan takes top spot

The important of waist circumference

Dr. Jean-Pierre Després, a spokesperson for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, and director of research in cardiology at Québec Heart and Lung Institute, says these results should not be ignored.

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“The interesting thing about this study is the very large sample size,” he tells Global News. “You have half a million — that’s what makes this study rather unique.”

But Després says the focus however needs to be on measuring waist circumference, as much as it is for measuring things like blood sugar and cholesterol. “This should be a national campaign,” he says. “We become aware of our blood pressure, we need the same thing for waist circumference.”

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, a waist circumference of 102 centimetres (40 inches) or more in men, or 88 centimetres (35 inches) or more in women, is associated with health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

You can measure the circumference by using a measuring tape and circling around the top of your hip bone.

READ MORE: Does moderate drinking really protect from heart disease?

Després adds when we are measuring our BMI (this is also important when looking at waist circumference), the problem is you often don’t have an idea where excess fat is located. “It’s the fat you don’t see,”he adds. “The liver fat, the abdominal fat… this is the fat that is dangerous.”

And he says most of us know how to maintain a healthy weight — it really depends on exercise, diet and reducing habits like drinking alcohol and smoking. But at the end of the day, it’s not just about stepping on the scale.

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“We’re in 2017, we have to be more sophisticated than that,” he says. “Beware of your waistline — you don’t want that number to go up over time.”

arti.patel@globalnews.ca