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Fat can be healthy: Scientists say obesity okay for some

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers say obesity really is okay for some people who are active and eat a healthy diet. In a new study, York University scientists challenge the notion that everyone has to be lean to live a long life.

The research, published in the journal, Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, compared lifespan of 6,000 obese and lean individuals in a sixteen year study.

In the study, the scientists found many individuals with high body mass index in early life, only had mild physical and physiological impairments that would put them at risk for obesity related diseases.

New criteria recommended to determine need for weight loss

The authors used a new tool to determine fat can be healthy. Instead of relying on body mass index alone, they utilized the Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS), which they say clinicians should consider when determining whether an individual really needs to lose weight.

The tool, developed by University of Alberta researchers, gauges risk factors for disease, which is broken down into five stages of obesity.

The system classifies the extent and severity of other diseases such as cancer, mental illness and heart disease, using traditional clinical data, including body mass index in addition to waist to hip ratio.

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Lead author Jennifer Kuk, assistant professor in York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health explains the finding negates the idea that all obese people must lose weight.

"Moreover, it's possible that trying – and failing – to lose weight may be more detrimental than simply staying at an elevated body weight and engaging in a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables," she says.

The finding also supports UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine research, published June, 2011, suggesting 20 to 30 percent of obese individuals are likely to be metabolically healthy, despite high body mass index.

Based on the findings, the researchers say fat can be healthy and that not everyone who is obese should be guided toward weight loss.

In order to determine whether obesity is a truly a health risk, Kuk says people should see a physician for evaluation that uses the EOSS criteria. The new study challenges the notion that everyone needs to be slim and lean to live a long and healthy life.

Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism
"Edmonton Obesity Staging System: association with weight history and mortality risk"
Jennifer L. Kuk, et al.; August 14, 2011

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With body fat scales becoming rather inexpensive, I think every doctor's office should have a few. Although not perfect, they can give a general gauge of whether someone is truly overfat or just overmuscular for their height. Not all people fit in the BMI, and those that don't are not always athletes. A person's body composition is different according to their heritage. The BMI works for most people of primarily European descent, but allows too much for Asians and too little for those of African or Native American descent. Myself, I am female, 5'4" and weigh 180 pounds. However with hydrostatic weighing I show to be 19% body fat even though my BMI is around 31. I am half Cherokee.
Excellent point. BMI has been suggested to be an inferior way to gauge metabolic health.
I think this is another example where medical experts come out on both sides of an issue. I remember when coffee was bad for you and now it is healthful. I remember when doctors did commercials on TV for particular brands of cigarets, and now we know better. I think it's obvious that obesity which is extreme overweight is not good as the heart is strained among other organs.