Can you be obese yet healthy? Individual focus must prevail in disease prevention, says study

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12 Apr 2018 --- Researchers have called for the end to the term “healthy obesity” has been voiced, due to its apparent misleading and flawed meaning. Dr. William Johnson, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, has emphasized that further research must be conducted to understand the differences between individuals who hold the same BMI, but suffer from different health afflictions. Essentially, this could lead to the development of more stratified disease prevention and intervention efforts that are targeted at individuals.

“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,” says Dr. Johnson.

The term “healthy obesity” first came to fruition in the 1980’s, to describe obese individuals who seemed healthy. Meaning, they did not suffer from hypertension or diabetes.

However, as Dr. Johnson asserts, the term is very limited because categorizing a population using cut-offs (e.g., BMI > 30 kg/m2 and blood pressure < 140/90 mmHg) results in some normal weight and obese individuals being labeled “healthy,” when there are obviously health differences between the two groups.

“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,” adds Dr. Johnson.