Healthy obesity a myth, study concludes

Study of 3.5 million people shows 'healthy' obese people are still at higher risk of cardiovascular disease events than the general population

However, a study of 3.5 million Britons suggests that having excess fat increases the risk of suffering heart disease by half even when blood pressure and cholesterol levels are normal, according to the research.

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "Can you be fat and fit?"

To determine metabolic health, the researchers divided the population into groups according to their BMI and the absence or presence of metabolic abnormalities, such as diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and abnormal blood fats (hyperlipidemia).

Folks dubbed healthy obese don't have metabolic problems typically associated with obesity - such as high cholesterol, poor blood sugar control, diabetes or high blood pressure.

While most obese people have an increased risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes compared to those of a normal weight, some seem to buck that trend and remain "healthy".

Commenting on the findings of the research, lead author of the study Dr Rishi Caleyachetty said that the study suggests that health professions need to change their approach when it comes to handling obesity cases.

The researchers found that compared to normal weight individuals without metabolic abnormalities, people with metabolically healthy obesity had a 50 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease, a 7 percent increased risk of cerebrovascular disease and twice the risk of heart failure.

They found that while they were "metabolically healthy", they were at a greater risk of developing heart disease, strokes and heart failure than those of a healthy weight.

Compared to a normal weight person with no abnormalities, an obese person with three abnormalities had a 2.6 times increased risk of heart disease, a 58% increased risk cerebrovascular disease, a 3.8 times increased risk of heart failure, and a 2.2 times increased risk of peripheral vascular disease.

The findings held true also when factors such as smoking were taken into account.

The so-called "healthy obese" aren't necessarily as healthy as they think.

While there was an overall lower risk of peripheral vascular disease, "healthy" obese people who never smoked still had an increased risk.

The analysis also showed that the risk of CVD events in obese individuals increased with increased number of metabolic abnormalities present.

Lead researcher Rishi Caleyachetty, an epidemiologist from The Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham says: "Preliminary findings from our study of 3.5 million adults in the United Kingdom showed that people who are obese and classified as "metabolically healthy" (ie no metabolic abnormalities such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high blood fat level) can still be at risk of developing cardiovascular disease (such as heart attacks, stroke and heart failure)".

Caleyachetty urged people not use the term healthy obesity because "it is not a harmless condition".

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