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Percentage of obese are probably healthy, despite public health concerns

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Obesity and health

Obese may not mean unhealthy finds study

Researchers say not everyone who is obese is unhealthy, despite a public health focus on the negative health effects that include diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Researchers from the Weight Management Services Program at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine suggest being overweight or obese doesn’t always carry health risks.

In their study, the researchers found 20 to 30 percent of obese individuals might be metabolically healthy, meaning there are no typical signs of being at risk for chronic disease or illness.

The researchers reviewed medical records of 454 obese individuals seen at the medical school with body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, which is considered obese.

A subgroup of 135 patients did not have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or elevated glucose levels that are risks associated with high body mass index. The group had average body fat content of 46 percent.

Another group of 167 obese patients were considered unhealthy with biomarkers putting them at risk for chronic disease.

Among obese, 20 to 30 percent might be at low risk for chronic illness

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Dr. Adarsh Gupta, director of Weight Management Services at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine, who, along with Dr. Gwynn Coatney, conducted the research said, ““Our results indicate that metabolically healthy obese individuals may represent as much as 20 to 30 percent of obese population.”

The researchers say their findings mean clinicians should be cautious when prescribing treatment for obese individuals who are metabolically healthy and should be distinguished from other groups of overweight and obese patients.

They also found younger obese patients were more likely to be without chronic health risks. In the study, metabolically unhealthy obese (MUO) patients were 45.4 years of age versus 37.4 years old in the healthy obese group.

Just over 17 percent of obese patients with risk factors were being treated for diabetes. Over 30 percent of MUO patients were taking statins to lower cholesterol levels and also 3 times more likely to have been prescribed antihypertensive medications.

Gupta also says it’s important for researchers to “distinguish between the metabolically healthy and metabolically unhealthy when analyzing data involving a group of obese individuals.” The findings suggest 20 to 30 percent of individuals who are overweight or obese are as healthy as their normal weight counterparts.

Image credit: Morguefile