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End healthy obesity

Researchers call for an end to the term healthy obesity

(Credit: Obesity Action Coalition)
There should be further investigation into contributing factors such as being obese for longer, adverse early life events, and smoking during adolescence

A paper by researchers at Loughborough University has called for an end to the term 'healthy obesity', due to it being misleading and flawed. The focus should instead be on conducting more in-depth research to understand causes and consequences of varying health among people with the same BMI. Dr William Johnson, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, emphasised that the construct of 'healthy obesity', first used in the 1980's to describe obese individuals who were apparently healthy - for example they didn't suffer with hypertension or diabetes, is limited. This is because categorising a population using cut-offs (eg, BMI and blood pressure) results in some normal weight and obese individuals being labelled 'healthy', when there are obviously health differences between the two groups.

In the paper, ‘Healthy obesity: time to give up the ghost?’, published in the Annals of Human Biology, Johnson does acknowledge that there are health differences between obese individuals with the same BMI and explains that there should be further investigation into contributing factors such as being obese for longer, adverse early life events, and smoking during adolescence.

For example, such research would explain why one person has a disease or dies, while another with the same BMI (or waist circumference) is fine.

"While epidemiology has revealed many of the life course processes and exposures that lead to a given disease, we know relatively little about the things that occur across someone's life that lead to them having a heart attack, for example, while their friend with the same BMI is fine. Existing birth cohort studies have the data necessary to improve knowledge on this topic," he claims.

With obesity at epidemic levels worldwide, such research could inform the development of more stratified disease prevention and intervention efforts targeted at individuals who have the highest risk.

“It is undeniable that obesity is bad for health, but there are clearly differences between individuals in the extent to which it is bad,” the authors conclude. “While the concept of healthy obesity is crude and problematic and may best be laid to rest, there is great opportunity for human biological investigation of the levels, causes and consequences of heterogeneity in health among people with the same BMI.”

To access this paper, please click here

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