August 13, 2008

Yes, Hefty Can Still Be Healthy

By Lindsey Tanner

CHICAGO - You can look great in a swimsuit and still be a heart attack waiting to happen. And you can also be overweight and otherwise healthy.

A new study suggests that a surprising number of overweight people - about half - have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while an equally startling number of trim people suffer from some of the ailments associated with obesity.

The first national estimate of its kind bolsters the argument that you can be heavy but still in good health, or at least healthier than has been believed. The results also show that stereotypes about body size can be misleading, and that even "less voluptuous" people can have risk factors associated with obesity, said study author MaryFran Sowers, a University of Michigan obesity researcher.

The study showed about 51 percent of overweight adults, some 36 million people nationwide, had mostly normal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood fats (triglycerides) and blood sugar. Almost one-third of obese adults, nearly 20 million people, also were in this healthy range, meaning that none or only one of those measures was abnormal.

Yet about a fourth of adults in the recommended-weight range had unhealthy levels of at least two of these measures. That means some 16 million of them are at risk for heart problems.

There's growing debate about the accuracy of the standard method of calculating whether someone is overweight. Health officials rely on the body mass index, a weight-height ratio that does not distinguish between fat and lean tissue. The limits of that method were highlighted a few years ago when it was reported that the system would put nearly half of NBA players in the overweight category.

A number of experts say waist size is a more accurate way of determining someone's health risks, and the study results support that argument.

Study co-author Judith Wylie-Rosett stressed that the study shouldn't send the message "that we don't need to worry about weight." That's because half of overweight people do face elevated risks for heart disease, said the nutrition researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

The new study, involving 5,440 people age 20 and over, appears in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine.

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Originally published by Lindsey Tanner Associated Press .

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