I imagine you’ve seen/heard those headlines in recent days. They’re about a study that was just published looking at the question of whether a person can be healthy at higher weights.
- “Fat and healthy is a myth” (LA Times)
- “New research disputes fat but fit claim” (NBC News)
- “There’s no such thing as healthy obesity” (CNN)
Should we believe the headlines? Not if you want to know the truth.
The Study Doesn’t Really Show What They’re Saying It Does
The study compared groups of people of different body sizes with and without metabolic syndrome factors, looking at the incidence of cardiovascular incidents or death. The conclusion was that metabolically-healthy “obese” persons are at higher risk for disease and death than metabolically-healthy “normal-weight” persons. This suggests that a higher weight automatically increases health risks.
But here’s the thing:
- What this study actually tells us is very different from the headlines and the study conclusions. The study does suggest that the obese may have a slightly elevated risk over normal-weight individuals — but barely enough to be significant. And that is only when the researchers looked at studies that lasted over 10 years. When they looked at all the studies included in their analysis, there was no increased risk.
when they looked at all the studies included in the analysis, there was no increased risk.
More significantly — and here’s what you’d think the headlines would be shouting — the study showed that normal-weight individuals with metabolic risk factors had the highest risk of all the groups.
According to psychologist and study-interpreter-extraordinaire Deb Burgard, PhD, the study showed that “it is 214% more likely that someone thin with those risk factors will have an event in 10 years than someone thin without them. And the thin people are more likely than the fat people with risk factors to have a problem.” She is also careful to point out that overall, the risk is still low, even for thinner people who are metabolically unhealthy.