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Can You be Obese or Overweight and Healthy at the Same Time?

Obese and Overweight but Healthy

Can you be overweight and healthy at the same time? Yes. Being overweight doesn’t mean you are sick or going to die earlier than those who have a normal weight.

People can be obese or overweight and still be healthy if they do not fall under the criteria of metabolic syndrome.

Criteria of Metabolic Syndrome:

  • A waist circumference of 35 inches or more in women and 40 inches or more in men
  • Raised triglyceride levels
  • Low HDL (high-density lipids)
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Raised blood glucose

Obesity is a complex disease that is linked to a great number of medical disorders. This disorder is composed of excess and unwanted accumulation of fat in the body.

Fat deposition is brought about by a number of factors including a sedentary lifestyle, and physical inactivity in combination with overindulgence in fatty foods.

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

There are many schools of thought on this topic. Some scientists believe that obesity is undeniably an unhealthy condition while on another note some scientists believe that there is a possibility of people being obese but nonetheless healthy.

Such obese but fit people are also called Metabolically Healthy Obese (MHO).

What is Metabolically Healthy Obesity (MHO)?

As such, there is no definite and single definition of metabolically healthy obesity. In clinical practices, there are over 30 different definitions are being used for their description.

Another belief is that metabolically healthy obesity might be a transient state which is linked with prolonged medical complications.

Most commonly, metabolically healthy obesity is characterized by the absence of any sort of metabolic disorders. These disorders may include hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, etc.

A list of health conditions seen in metabolically healthy obese people is given below.

  • Insulin sensitivity is pretty normal
  • Physical fitness is somewhat better than unhealthy obese individuals
  • Have a normal blood glucose level, cholesterol, and blood pressure
  • Waist circumference; <40 inches in men and <35 inches in women
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MHO (metabolically healthy obesity) is not that common, and just because it is present today does not mean that it will last forever.

As we age, our physical activity becomes restricted, our metabolism slows down and our immunity becomes less efficient. These factors can transform MHO into unhealthy and detrimental obesity.

Even though BMI (body mass index) is constantly used in clinical practices to identify the weight status of individuals, this is still not a method that we can rely on. The reason for that is, BMI is imperfect.

Owing to the fact that muscle mass is denser than fat mass, it tends to identify muscular and fit people as obese or overweight.

This gives us a solid reason to not use body mass index as a sole method to identify weight status.

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Genes and MHO (metabolically healthy obesity)

Our genes have an effect on every single thing in our lives, from the color of our hair to diseases we inherit. The body’s metabolism is most definitely affected by our genes.

Genes influence the deposition and storage of fat in your body, either around the abdomen or in your thighs and hips, and they may as well protect you from developing insulin resistance. So, the concept of MHO can be supported on these bases.

Obesity treatment

Treatment of unhealthy obesity is usually done by guiding patients towards a healthy lifestyle (e.g., diet and exercise).

In extreme situations when these efforts are not enough, bariatric surgery is performed. But in the case of metabolically healthy obesity, it is much more sensible to use calorie restriction and frequent exercise as treatment options.

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Indications That You Might Be Obese or Overweight and Healthy

  • Normal metabolic test results

A number of people can be overweight or obese according to their BMI. Nevertheless, their biochemical or metabolic test results come out normal.

Doctors may check an identified obese individual’s cholesterol level, blood glucose level, and blood pressure and if they come out normal then these individuals are termed as metabolically healthy obese as they have no associated disorder.

  • Generally fit and active

Fitness has more importance than BMI. Generally, fitness has an impact on mortality and morbidity.

Being normally fit and active despite your weight status can be a reasonably good sign of healthy weight status.

According to a cardiologist, avoiding fatness is less important than avoiding low fitness.

In 2007, a study was performed on veterans who had type 2 diabetes and it showed that a person’s degree of fitness is capable of predicting mortality much better than BMI.

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  • You have a higher percentage of muscle mass in your body

As stated above, BMI is not capable of differentiating between muscle and fat mass, which is why it tends to be imperfect.

Muscle mass is much denser and heavier than fat mass, people who go to the gym frequently and have developed a good amount of muscle mass can have a greater than normal BMI which can put them at an overweight point on a BMI scale.

Professional athletes and other sportsmen can be considered obese based on their BMI value but this is not accurate.

Having a higher BMI based on muscle mass is not a threat to your health, as there are fewer complications found in people with muscle mass than there are in obese or overweight individuals.

  • Waist Circumference

For men, a waist circumference of less than 40 inches, and for women, a waist circumference of less than 35 inches is considered healthy.

Waist circumference is thought to be a better indicator of obesity than body mass index. If you have a recommended waist circumference, then you do not fall under the unhealthy-weight criteria.

Waist circumference higher than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is clear evidence of adiposity and puts one at an increased risk of developing critical conditions like cardiovascular disorders or osteoporosis.

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  • Location of fat deposition

Where fat is stored or deposited in your body, can tell a lot about your health status.

Gynoid obesity, in which fat is mostly stored in the hips or thighs, is much safer than android obesity, in which fat is stored around the abdomen.

The reason for that is how fat deposition can be detrimental to your abdominal organs. Even though, losing abdominal fat is much easier than losing peripheral fat.

In Summary:

To put it into a nutshell, abdominal adiposity is much more hazardous to health than peripheral adiposity.

Again, this is another proof as to how BMI should be avoided to be utilized as an indicator of adiposity.

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What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

I love my family, my profession, my blog, nature, hiking, and simple life. Read more about me, my family, and my qualifications

Here is a link to My Facebook Page. You can also contact me by email at or at My Twitter Account
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