Study warns 'healthy' obesity still comes with major risks

A new study from the University of Glasgow's Institute of Health and Wellbeing warns that there's really no such thing as 'healthy' obesity due to the increased disease risk that comes with the condition. The increased risk for various diseases is found in people who are obese but may have a normal metabolic profile at the time of testing.

The study looked into whether people who have metabolically healthy obesity are still at greater risk of developing diseases like respiratory and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Metabolic health refers to things like whether a person has high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and high blood sugar, which are common issues that arrive in cases of obesity.

Some people who fall into the obese weight range don't have these metabolic problems, however, leading to a popular notion of being obese but healthy. The new study evaluated this topic using data on more than 381,000 people who were placed into one of four categories: those who were obese and metabolically healthy, who were obese and metabolically unhealthy, who were not obese and metabolically healthy, and who were not obese and metabolically unhealthy.

With an 11.2-year median follow-up period, the study found that people who were obese but metabolically healthy were more likely to be younger, more educated, more active, watched less TV, and similar compared to obese individuals who were metabolically unhealthy. Despite being metabolically healthy, these obese participants were still considerably more likely to face various diseases compared to non-obese participants who were also metabolically healthy.

This included a 76-percent greater chance of experiencing heart failure, 4.3 times greater chance of developing type-2 diabetes, 18-percent greater chance of having a stroke or heart attack, and a 28-percent greater chance of developing a lung disease like COPD. The risk of heart failure in metabolically healthy obese adults was still 28-percent higher than the risk in non-obese but metabolically unhealthy people.

The researchers behind the study said:

People with metabolically healthy obesity were at a substantially higher risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke, heart failure, respiratory diseases, and all-cause mortality compared with people who were not obese and with a healthy metabolic profile. Particularly worth noting is that people with metabolically healthy obesity had a higher risk of heart failure and respiratory disease than metabolically unhealthy participants without obesity.