Study: It’s OK to Be Fat

Posted August 15th, 2011 at 7:11 pm (UTC-4)

Despite current conventional wisdom to the contrary, a new study suggests that being fat can actually be good for you.

Obese people, who are otherwise healthy, can live just as long as those who are thinner, and are less likely to die of cardiovascular causes, according to the study from Toronto’s York University,

The WHO says that overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for global deaths. At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

The study’s lead author, Professor Jennifer Kuk at the University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Science,  says the new findings challenge the idea that all obese people need to lose weight.

Not only that, she says it’s possible that trying and failing to lose weight might be more harmful than just staying at the higher weight level, as long as obese or overweight people exercise and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

In the study, Professor Kuk’s team examined about 6,000 obese Americans over a 16-year period and compared their mortality risk with leaner individuals.

Rather than use the common standard of the Body Mass Index (BMI),  Kuk’s research team used a measurement method recently developed by scientists at University of Alberta. Called the Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS), it’s believed to be more accurate than the BMI for identifying who should attempt to lose weight.

This new five-stage EOSS not only uses traditional measurement methods such as BMI and waist-to-hip ratios, but it also classifies additional factors such as the extent and severity of other diseases like cancer, mental illness and heart disease.

The system also takes clinical measurements which reflect medical conditions often caused or aggravated by obesity, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Professor Kuk stresses that individuals should be evaluated by a physician, using the criteria provided by EOSS, to determine whether they should lose weight.

The researchers found that obese people with mild or no physical, psychological or physiological impairments, had a higher body weight while they were younger adults, were happier at the higher body weight, and didn’t attempt to lose weight much during their lives.

The researchers also found that these people were also more likely to be physically active and maintain a healthy diet.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

14 responses to “Study: It’s OK to Be Fat”

  1. Rob says:

    “Not only that, she says it’s possible that trying and failing to lose weight might be more harmful than just staying at the higher weight level, as long as obese or overweight people exercise and eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.”

    Yes, but if they were exercising and eating a balanced diet would they be obese? Assuming we’re talking about truly obese people (not people who would like to lose 10 pounds to fit into their size 6 jeans), I would guess no.

    • Rob N. says:

      No, you misunderstand it. Many obese people do eat healthy diets and exercise – or they would, if people didn’t keep saying that they’re obese due to diet and exercise alone.

      Here’s my take on it: If fat phobic people actually accepted people at any size and encouraged them to eat healthy and exercise (and maybe work out with them) rather than denigrate them and call them nasty names, then you’d have more obese healthy people.

      Not everyone is obese from continued bad eating habits. Sometimes the food is healthy. There just may be more of it.

    • HIllary says:

      You can take your narrow-minded judgments about fat people and shove them. I, too, am that category. I have struggled with my weight all my life and, even after losing over fifty pounds, still clock in at around 195. However, I engage in moderate to heavy exercise 4-6 times weekly and eat well. Still, I’m stuck at around 195. The logical side of me struggles with this paradigm because, as you suggest, I should theoretically no longer be classified as obese, but I am. While, on the other hand, I watch thin people eat crap food and barely go to the gym and be considered paradigms of health simply because they are thin.

      I absolutely could do more to modify my diet. I could consume my life with counting calories, obsessing over food, and what I eat and how I eat and when I eat – and I’ve done that. I still do that. It sucks. It creates an inner voice that always tells you you’re failing; that shouts, “You’re ugly. You’re not good enough” even when other people, other encounters are telling you otherwise.

      There is a serious problem with how we scathe fat in this country and, in turn, how we worship thin.

  2. Alexander Albov says:

    Really funny opus. “Obese people, who are otherwise healthy, can live just as long…”
    In other words in the group was chosen most healthiest among others or some kind of exceptions. That’s why regardless what there were 6000 of them – the rank can’t be representative. And the “research” very questionable and doubtfully.
    Very interesting is to see how the Professor be able to proof harmful effect moderate exercise and balanced diet for somebody!

  3. Thank you Rick! Very much appreciated! 🙂

  4. Mike says:

    I think the conclusion of the experiment is that if you are obese and you are not having any other problems due to it, you are just as healthy as a thin person who is absent those particular problems. The obesity itself will not shorten your life.

    An equally valuable conclusion is that if you are thin, and you have high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes you need to get it treated; being thin does not mean you are healthy.

  5. Sofia V says:

    This is great news. I once was obese, and was advised to go into a stringent diet and exercise for the reasons that you specified in your article. I wanted an exercise I wouldn’t see as a chore as I’m really bored with exercises, and my doctor gave me a Zumba DVD which I might be interested in. I got hooked, had a grand time losing 500 calories per hour, and eventually lost my unwanted pounds. My sister’s overweight (still), and I worry a lot, but yeah, your article makes a lot of sense. I’m sharing this with her.

  6. Andy says:

    I am this guy. I am clinically obese. I have also, in the last 18 months, ran 2 half marathons and done a century ride as part of a 2 day, 175 mile bike ride. Of course, there was plenty of training that goes along with these events. While I have lost weight through the course of this, I do still fall well above the “obesity” threshold. My blood pressure is good, my blood sugar is good, my cholesterol is borderline high (strong family history of high chol), and by all other measures, I’m healthy. My diet still leaves a little to be desired, but overall it’s better than most with plenty of fruits and veggies.

    • San says:

      How old are you Andy? Many overweight or obese people are quite strong and fit when they are young. However, as the acceleration of aging begins around 40, those who are overweight begin to see cardiovascular issues more often than those who are not.

  7. Scott says:

    So many studies showing increased weight = Increased levels of inflammation = increased risk for CVD. I could not imagine this study could get through a peer review of medical professionals.

  8. Julie says:

    This is great news! I considered starting on a path to losing weight, but this reassures me that I am OK at my obese state. I have no other health problems. Why try? It is hard. I would probably fail anyways and that would be more harmful. This suggests fat can actually be good for me and I want to do whats best for myself.