Does Healthy Obesity Boost Premature Death Risk?

In In The Press, Individual, Industry News by Paul Howell

Whether someone can be obese and healthy has been the subject of many debates over the years. In fact, there’s even a proper medical term for people who have BMIs that put them in the obese camp, but do not have any of the associated health complications: metabolically healthy obesity.

But while these individuals appear to be fit and healthy, research shows they could be at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Now, additional research has added more fuel to the debate.

Publishing their findings in the journal Clinical Obesity, the researchers, led by Jennifer Kuk, an associate professor at the School of Kinesiology and Health Science at York University, said obesity alone is not associated with a greater risk of early death.

That is to say people who are obese, but do not have conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes do not have a heightened mortality risk.

It’s an important revelation because it counters many previous assumptions and could dramatically change how obese people are viewed and treated by medical professionals.

Defining people with ‘healthy obesity’ as having a BMI that places them in the obese category (30+), but without any metabolic risk factors, the researchers analysed data obtained from some 54,089 men and women.

They looked at whether individuals with so-called healthy obesity had a greater mortality risk than both obese people with a metabolic problem and people who were not obese and had no metabolic issues.

The researchers found that obesity on its own did not increase a person’s risk of premature death. In contrast, other metabolic problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, did increase premature death risk independently.

Weight Loss Benefits ‘Questionable’

“This is clearly problematic, as hypertension alone increases your mortality risk and past literature would have called these patients with obesity and hypertension, ‘healthy.’ This is likely why most studies have reported that ‘healthy’ obesity is still related with higher mortality risk,” notes Kuk.

At present, individuals with a BMI of 30 or greater are diagnosed as being obese and the medical advice they are usually given is to lose weight.

However, Kuk and team found that one in 20 people with obesity do not have any associated metabolic problems. Therefore, they question whether losing weight will actually reap any benefits for obese people.

Nevertheless, obesity, particularly childhood obesity, remains a significant health issue in the UK.

According to figures from Public Health England (PHE), obesity is at a record high in children aged 10-11 years. Four in 100 year 6 pupils are now classed as severely obese. This figure was three in 100 pupils in 2006.

Cancer Research UK highlights how obese children are more likely to be obese adults. The charity goes on to warn that “obesity in adulthood is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking”.

While the new research does raise some potential questions about how obese individuals are viewed and treated by medical professionals, the fact there is a severe childhood obesity problem in the UK is of greater concern and needs urgently addressing.

I joined Premier Choice Group as an SME/Corporate Consultant in 2017 and look after the Healthcare & Protection needs of a nationwide portfolio. I began my career in Healthcare and Protection in 1985 with BUPA, before moving on to  Royal & Sun Alliance. In 2002, I became an Intermediary and worked with Private Clients, SME’s and Corporate clients on a local, national and international basis.