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Why ""Healthy Obesity"" is Nothing But a Myth

There’s been a prevailing idea in the last several years that it’s alright to be obese as long as you are otherwise healthy. Some studies, including one published earlier this week, have suggested that for certain people with good cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and triglyceride levels, obesity may not be such an issue in long-term health. In this way, the concept of “healthy obesity” has become an accepted idea in the eyes of many researchers and the general public.

But another new study shows that this idea may be misleading, since over time, healthy obesity tends to devolve into unhealthy obesity. So-called “healthy obesity” may not be a steady state at all - it may be just a stage that will likely deteriorate at some point in the future.

Researchers from the University College London looked at data over a period of 20 years - longer than any study on healthy obesity had tracked health in the past. Their first group consisted of 66 people considered “healthy obese” based on their metabolic profiles, including cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, triglyceride levels and insulin resistance.

Of the people who started out as “healthy obese,” more than half moved into the “unhealthy obese” category over the next two decades. Just six percent lost enough weight to move into the healthy non obese category.

The researchers then looked at a larger group of 389 “healthy obese” study participants. After 10 years, 35% had become “unhealthy obese”; after 15 years, it had risen to 38%; and at twenty years, more than 48% of study participants were “unhealthy obese”. Just ten percent of the participants in the group lost enough weight to become “healthy non-obese” after 20 years.

These results prompted the researchers to suggest that “the natural course of healthy obesity is progression to metabolic deterioration” - in plain words, that healthy obesity is simply a phase that will likely give way to unhealthy obesity in the future.

“A few previous studies,” author Joshua Bell says, “using shorter follow-up times showed about one-third of healthy obese adults progress to unhealthy obesity. And our study with at least 10 years longer follow-up, indicates that this tendency gets stronger with time, with about half making this transition after 20 years….These results indicate that healthy obesity is often just a phase. Healthy obese adults tend to get worse, not better.”

 

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Steve Baker

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