Rafed English

Can you really be both 'fat and fit?'

People “can be obese yet physically healthy and fit and at no greater risk of heart disease or cancer”, according to BBC News.

This counterintuitive headline stems from a study that was assessing health outcomes for people who were obese but relatively fit, with only one or no risk factors for “metabolic syndrome”. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when people have multiple risk factors, such as high blood pressure, that make them more prone to diabetes or cardiovascular disease (CVDs).

Researchers found that the “metabolic healthy” obese group were significantly less likely to develop a CVD or cancer, or die as a result, than people who were similarly obese but were judged to be “metabolic unhealthy”. In fact the risks of CVDs and cancers in the “metabolic healthy but obese” group were broadly similar to people with a healthy weight.

However, the research should not be interpreted to mean that being obese is healthy. Waist circumference size is also a risk factor for CVDs, so ideally you should be aiming to have a circumference of less than 94cm (37in) if you’re a man and less than 80cm (31.5in) if you’re a woman.

The research actually tells us very little that is useful in how fitness levels can affect CVD and cancer risk and whether it is possible to be both "fat and fit".

The main implication of the research is that factors other than weight need to be taken in account when assessing these types of health risks.

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