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Is There a Healthier Sub-type of Obesity?

Written by Courteney

Posted on November 16, 2016 at 2:21 am


The concept of ‘metabolically healthy obesity’ (MHO) has recently been circulating through the medical community, causing a few ripples as it goes. It refers to individuals who fall into the ‘obese’ body mass index (BMI) category, but according to a few criteria, may not be at the same heightened risk of disease that most obese people are.

What Criteria Define Metabolically Healthy Obesity?

There is little consensus on the exact details of MHO, however, Dr. Hu of Harvard Health maintains that obesity is not a homogenous category of people. He has outlined the following criteria to help better define MHO:

  • A waist less than 40 inches for a man or 35 for a woman
  • Good overall fitness
  • Normal sensitivity to insulin
  • Normal blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol

The Concept is Highly Debated

Many medical professionals argue that just because a ‘metabolically healthy’ obese person exercises frequently or doesn’t currently have any indicators of ill health doesn’t mean they soon won’t develop issues. There is such a vast sea of research and scientific proof linking obesity to hundreds of medical conditions that suggests an obese person who is active and shows no current signs of insulin resistance or heart problems is still at a higher than average risk of developing future complications because of his or her weight.

The Bottom Line About Obesity

Weight isn’t always a perfect indicator of health or disease risk. Skinny people often develop heart disease or high cholesterol if they don’t lead a healthy lifestyle and sometimes those who are obese don’t develop many health issues and can be overall healthier than smaller people. Thus, there very well may be a MHO phenotype that can help stave off illness for longer. However, scientifically speaking, people who are obese (with a BMI of over 30) are at elevated risk of developing many diseases such as some types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other troublesome conditions. So, just because someone who is excessively overweight doesn’t have health problems in the present won’t guarantee them immunity from obesity-related risks in the future. The best way to lower the risk of obesity-related conditions is not only to exercise routinely, but also to eat a healthy diet that is high in produce and low in animal fats, saturated fats and simple carbohydrates and to attend medical checkups regularly.

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