No Such Thing as Being ‘Fat and Fit’, Study Suggest

Experts have long debated whether people can be ‘healthy obese’ or ‘fat but fit’.

The idea of being healthily obese is a myth.

A study by scientists at the University of Birmingham suggests that ‘healthy’ obese people are still at higher risk of heart failure or stroke than the general population. The study was the largest of its kind to date and involved analysis of the GP records of 3.5 million people aged 18 years or older and initially free from cardiovascular disease (CVD) from across the UK from 1995 to 2015. The research team used electronic patient records to look for markers of being metabolically healthy, having normal blood pressure and cholesterol and no diabetes, while also being obese. They subsequently checked how many people suffered one of the following four cardiovascular conditions: coronary heart disease (CHD), cerebrovascular disease (including stroke), heart failure and peripheral vascular disease (a disorder of blood circulation). The concept of “healthy obesity” – a condition characterized by having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.

‘Healthy’ obese people are still at higher risk of heart failure or stroke than the general population.

The research results showed that compared to healthy people of a normal weight, those regarded as healthy and obese had a:

  • 49% increased risk of coronary heart disease
  • 7% higher risk of stroke
  • 96% increased risk of heart failure 

‘The priority of health professionals regarding these patients should be to promote and facilitate weight loss, as it is with any other obese patient.’ said Dr Rishi Caleyachetty, lead author of the study.

However 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, experts had picked up on the fact that some seem to buck that trend and remain healthy.

This is not the first study to suggest that healthy obesity is a myth. Earlier research had already found that obesity of any kind, healthy or unhealthy, increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and early death.

The World Obesity Federation has officially recognized obesity as a disease because of the wide variety of health problems associated with it. “As well as increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, being overweight or obese can increase your risk of 11 common cancers, including prostate and liver. If everyone were a healthy weight, around 25,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the UK each year.” said Susannah Brown, senior scientist at World Cancer Research Fund.