Fat But Fit Is Not A Thing (Sorry)

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There is no such thing as being “fat but fit”, ie obese according to the BMI measure but otherwise healthy, according to new research. This has found that simply being obese is enough to put you at greater risk of heart issues even if you have no initial warning signs like high blood pressure or blood sugar.

The as-yet-unpublished study’s findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal. Scientists from the University of Birmingham analysed data on 3.5 million people taken between 1995 and 2015 and found that people who were obese (based on their BMI) but “metabolically healthy” – in that they didn’t have diabetes, high blood pressure or abnormal blood fats – still had a 50% higher risk of coronary heart disease than people of a healthy weight.

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Obese people also had double the risk of heart failure, and a 7% increased risk of cerebrovascular disease – an issue that affects the blood supply to the brain, which can cause strokes.

The BMI measurement often faces criticism because it classes heavily muscled people as obese because of their weight. But this research suggests that at a population level the idea that many people could be obese and at no greater risk of heart disease doesn’t hold water.

“These findings should be taken extremely seriously and I’d urge healthcare professionals to take heed,” said Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation.

“Previously we used to think that being overweight led to an increase in heart attacks and stroke because it raised your blood pressure or cholesterol.

“What was new from this study is that it showed that people who were overweight or obese were at increased risk of heart disease even though they may have been healthy in every other respect.”

You can work out your own BMI by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres, then by dividing that result by your height again (eg 70kg/1.8m = 38.9. 38.9/1.8 = a BMI of 21.6). You can also use an online calculator to make things easier. Here’s the NHS’s BMI calculator.

The healthy range for adults is between 18.5 and 24.9. Between 25 and 29.9 is classed as overweight and between 30 and 39.9 is the obese range.

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Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.