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Some obese people are, in fact, healthy

August 11, 2008 |  3:45 pm

We've been told by doctors that it's bad to be overweight. And, for many people, that's true. But research is accumulating to show that it's the location of the fat that matters. You can be normal weight and be just as bad off as old tubby next door.

Two studies in today's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine demonstrate this. In one, researchersWalkers  in Germany studied 314 people ages 18 to 69, assessing their weight and glucose tolerance. Glucose tolerance is a measure of insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition that contributes to heart disease. They found that obese people with insulin resistance had more fat within their skeletal muscles and livers than obese people without insulin resistance.

In the second study, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine examined the records of more than 5,000 adults, looking at metabolic abnormalities such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. They found that 23.5% of adults of normal weight were metabolically abnormal whereas 51.3% of overweight adults and 31.7% of obese adults were metabolically healthy. Normal weight people with metabolic abnormalities tended to be older, less physically active and have larger waists than healthy, normal-weight people.

"Both reports emphasize the benign nature of fat accumulation outside the abdomen," Dr. Lewis Landsberg, of the Northwestern University Comprehensive Center on Obesity in Chicago, said in an editorial accompanying the studies. "In both studies, the detrimental effect of visceral fat accumulation and its surrogate, waist circumference, were clearly demonstrated, confirming older studies showing that waist circumference is a risk factor even in normal-weight individuals."

For more information on abdominal fat and measuring your waist circumference, see this article by Harvard Health Publications.

-- Shari Roan

Photo:  J. Emilio Flores, for the Los Angeles Times

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