Controversy has surrounded the debate over whether people can be considered “healthy” even if they’re obese. While some argue that it’s perfectly possible to be in good health while carrying many extra pounds of weight, others say that obesity itself is a major health danger, even if an individual is free of the types of conditions that typically accompany it. Typical obesity-related conditions include high blood cholesterol, high blood sugar and high blood pressure.
A new study conducted at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital found that people who are obese, in comparison to those who are of a normal weight, are about 24% more likely to die from any cause over a 10-year period, or to have a heart problem during this same timeframe. The two groups compared above had no metabolic problems at all – only their weight differed.
Is Obesity Deadly By Itself?
The study findings have led some experts to claim that it’s just one more piece of evidence showing that obesity is a disease, a notion that is supported by the American Medical Association despite the fact that it’s still controversial.
At the same time, Dr. Pieter Cohen of Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study, still feels that specific metabolic conditions like excessive levels of cholesterol or blood pressure are far more dangerous than carrying extra weight in the absence of metabolic disorders. In fact, one recent study actually indicated that people who are slightly overweight in terms of their body mass index are actually likely to live a little longer than those of a “normal” weight.
Collecting Results of Many Studies
The new study actually looked at data collected from eight existing studies that examined over 61,000 individuals, mostly between the ages of 40 and 60. Depending on the specific study in which they were involved, participants were tracked for anywhere from 3 to 30 years. Almost 10% of the individuals in the studies were considered obese according to their BMIs despite having no metabolic disorders. The individuals in the study who did suffer from metabolic disorders were more likely to suffer a heart attack and/or die at some point during the study period, regardless of weight.
To eliminate potential statistical anomalies caused by the fact that some of the study participants were only followed for a short period of time, the researchers ran the data a second time using only study participants who were followed for a minimum of 10 years. In this case, the researchers still found that obese individuals were more likely to die than normal-weight individuals even in the absence of metabolic disorders.
Limitations of the Study
Harvard’s Dr. Cohen disagreed with the findings of the study. He said that the data indicates that only one obese study participant with no metabolic problems per 140 died or experienced a heart issue during the 10-year study period, a remarkably small figure. He also criticized the fact that despite the study running for 10 years, metabolic data for the participants was only collected a single time.
Dr. Cohen said some of the individuals who were obese at the beginning of the study, but without metabolic problems, may have indeed developed metabolic problems that went unreported as the study period continued. Therefore, these individuals may have actually died as a result of a metabolic disorder, not of obesity on its own.
However, Dr. Cohen also stressed the fact that people who are obese should strive to attain a healthy, normal weight, even if they don’t have any apparent metabolic disorders. This is because carrying extra weight could lead to metabolic problems in the future, not to mention conditions that negatively affect quality of life such as joint problems and poor spinal alignment.
The Bottom Line
A new study finds that while it’s better to be obese than to have metabolic disorders, carrying extra weight still increases your risk of death over the next 10 years. However, experts disagree as to just how big of a risk obesity in the absence of metabolic disorders actually poses.
The full text of the study is available online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.