While it might spare feelings in an era where people are more conscious than ever about body shaming, the idea that people can be “fat but fit” is nothing more than a myth, according to the authors of a new study presented earlier this week at a health conference in Portugal.
Speaking at the European Congress on Obesity, researchers from the University of Birmingham revealed that they examined the medical records of more than 3.5 million men and women living in the UK, and found that even though who had no initial signs of heart disease, high cholesterol or diabetes at a young age were more likely to develop these conditions later on in life.
According to BBC News and The Telegraph, the researchers followed the “fat but fit” patients (patients who were clinically obese but whose blood pressure and glucose levels remained within recommended limits, despite the extra weight) from 1995-2015 to determine whether or not they would remain “metabolically healthy” as they aged.
What lead author Dr. Rishi Caleyachetty and his colleagues discovered was that individuals who had a BMI of at least 30 at the start of the study were 50 percent more likely to contract coronary heart disease than those considered to be at a healthy weight. Furthermore, the “fat but fit” folks had a 7 percent increased risk of cerebrovascular disease – conditions affecting the blood supply to the brain that could ultimately result in a stroke, according to The Guardian.
Obesity ‘not a harmless condition,’ study author warns
“It’s not often that research on this scale and magnitude is able to clarify an age-old myth,” Dr, Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation told BBC News. “These findings should be taken extremely seriously and I’d urge healthcare professionals to take heed.”
“Previously we used to think that being overweight led to an increase in heart attacks and stroke because it raised your blood pressure or cholesterol,” he added. “What was new from this study for me is that it showed that people who were overweight or obese were at increased risk of heart disease even though they may have been healthy in every other respect.”
To put it another way, the study found that obese patients faced an increased risk of heart attack and stroke simply because of the amount of weight they were carrying, as they were determined to be healthy in all other metabolic measures. However, it should be noted that the study has yet to be peer-reviewed and published and that it relies upon BMI, which can be misleading.
“I understand that argument. BMI is crude… but it is the only measure we have in the clinic to get a proxy for body fat. It is not realistic [to use anything else] in a GP setting or in the normal hospital clinic,” Dr. Caleyachetty told The Guardian. “We have to rely on BMI measurements, however crude they may be.”
“The priority of health professionals should be to promote and facilitate weight loss among obese persons, regardless of the presence or absence of metabolic abnormalities,” he added. “At the population level, so-called metabolically healthy obesity is not a harmless condition and perhaps it is better not to use this term to describe an obese person, regardless of how many metabolic complications they have.”
Image credit: Thinkstock