As we approach winter the temptation to eat comforting foods increases & many a fitness or well-being leader & website often advocate we can still be fat while also being fit & healthy. But is being ‘fat but fit a big fat myth’? Or is there truth in this statement?
The idea that people can be fat but medically fit is indeed a myth, at least that is what experts speaking in Europe post trials from 1995 say. The European team’s early work, as yet unpublished, involved looking at the GP records of some 3.5 million people across the UK for this 20 year plus trial.
Studies to date demonstrated that people who were obese but who had no initial signs of heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol were not protected from ill health in later life. This summary contradicts previous research on the subject. A summary of the study was discussed at the European Congress on Obesity.
The term ‘fat but fit’ refers to the appealing theory that if people are obese but all their other metabolic factors such as blood pressure & blood sugar are within recommended limits then the extra weight will not be harmful to them.
In this study, researchers in the sports science department at the University of Birmingham England analysed data of millions of British patients between 1995 & 2015 to see if this claim held true.
They tracked people who were obese at the start of the study (defined as people with a body mass index of 30 or more) who had no evidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes at this point.
The research proved that people who were obese but “metabolically healthy” were indeed at higher risk of developing heart disease, strokes & heart failure than people of normal weight.
Dr Mike Knapton, from the British Heart Foundation, stated: “It’s not often that research on this scale & magnitude is able to clarify an age-old myth. “These findings should be taken extremely seriously & healthcare professionals should take note.”
He added: “Previously we used to think that being overweight led to an increase in heart attacks & strokes because it raised your blood pressure or cholesterol. What was new from this study for is that it showed that people who were overweight or obese were at increased risk of heart disease even though they may have been healthy in every other respect.”
Consequently, it appears to be scientific consensus that just being overweight does put one at an increased risk of suffering a heart attack & / or a stroke.
But crucially the study has not appeared in a scientific journal & as such, it will not have gone through a number of checks & balances by other academics or peers to judge whether it is scientifically & factually sound. This makes it difficult for scientists to see how clear-cut the conclusions are or to gauge how big any increased risks of ill-health of being fat might actually be.
According to the British Heart Foundation, the normal heart health advice applies – that being not smoking while eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly & limiting alcohol intake – these can all help keep people healthy.
This long- running study from back in 1995 should be a wake-up call for healthcare, well-being, fitness leaders & planners also for food manufacturers & the government medical bodies to make sure we can ensure the general population can make healthier choices at every juncture.
Dr Rishi Caleyachetty from the University of Birmingham, advocated that the priority of health professionals should be to promote & facilitate weight loss among obese persons, regardless of the presence or absence of metabolic abnormalities.
He added: “At the population level, so-called metabolically healthy obesity is not a harmless condition.” Other studies suggest it might just be possible to be fat & have the right genes, for example, to remain fit.
For example, research published in 2012 appears to suggests it is possible for people to buck the trend & be fat & healthy if they have no metabolic diseases. Published in the European Heart Journal, researchers suggest people who are obese yet physically healthy are at no greater risk of heart disease or cancer than people of normal weight.
Fitness & fatness: These are tricky things to measure for the general public.
But other experts point out that the way scientists measure fatness & fitness makes this a tricky area to study & could make some of the more tantalising results invalid. Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition & dietetics at King’s College London, says a major weakness of the Birmingham study is that it uses definite cut-offs to decide when someone has high blood pressure or high cholesterol for example.
Instead, he argues that it is too simple & not accurate to use such definite values to decide whether someone is healthy or not.
Other studies have suggested that it is not always the amount of fat that matters but also where the excess fat is carried on the body that can affect fitness & health. For example, weight around the middle may be more damaging than weight distributed evenly around the body.
Overall, experts say it is important to not just focus on what you see in the mirror or on the scales – exercise & healthy eating can help boost wellness, no matter how much a person weighs.
What do you think of the findings of this report as a gym – goer or GX zone participant? Do you consider yourself fat but fit or overweight but fit? If so how do you seek to get fitter & / or stay healthy?
Discuss your questions with your personal trainer here in the club or schedule an appointment with our nutritionist or dietician. Whatever you do, make sure you come up with a plan that suits your health & fitness journey here at Healthy Life.