Fit but Fat?

Is it possible to be overweight and healthy at the same time?

You hear over and over again that being overweight equals being unhealthy. While it’s true that overweight people are at an increased risk for numerous health problems including premature death, it’s also true that some overweight people can be in shape and have low risk factors for disease. So how do you know if your weight has passed the point of good health?

Good question. Here’s the answer.

Bulging BMI

Body mass index (BMI) is a generally accepted way of measuring healthy body weight and health risks. While it does have its weaknesses and inconsistencies (muscle weighs more than fat), using the ratio of your height to weight gives a fairly good indication as to whether you’re underweight, normal weight, or overweight. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is defined as overweight and higher than 30 is considered obese.

Risk beyond BMI

More factors than just your BMI must be taken into account when deciding health based on size. The vast majority of overweight and obese folks have negative changes in their metabolism including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and excess weight around the waist. These conditions put you at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancer—all which are leading causes of death.

So when deciding whether or not an overweight person is healthy, you must look at these risk factors. To be healthy and overweight, a female must have a waist size of less than 35 inches, males typically require a waist smaller than 40 inches, and both sexes must be in good physical fitness and test normal for at least two of the following: blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

The few lucky overweight people who somehow avoid the risks (at least for now) and appear to have the same risk factors as people of normal weight are identified as metabolically healthy obese.

Why the Difference?

Look around and you won’t see two people with the exact same shape and size. Everyone in the world is different in the way they burn calories. Environmental factors, lifestyle choices, amount of physical activity, medical conditions, and the type of food consumed all affect a person’s health and body shape. Some people’s metabolisms are slow, while others are fast. And don’t forget the huge role that genetics plays in the size and shape of your body, sometimes regardless of the amount of calories you eat and miles you run. You may be blessed with genes that protect you from insulin resistance or from storing extra weight around your midsection or you may be programmed to have big thighs and trouble managing cholesterol.

Will Health Last?

Someone who’s metabolically healthy and obese may pass health tests now, but down the road things are likely to change. Aging or a change in fitness can increase health risks and excess weight can lead to joint problems, sleep apnea, hormonal imbalances, a lack of energy, and even certain cancers. Overweight and healthy or not, it’s still time to lose weight.

The best way to ensure you’re healthy no matter what the scale says is by eating a nutritious, balanced diet and getting regular physical activity. Sometimes all it takes is losing just 5 to 10 percent of your boy weight to see your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels drop to healthy levels.