Benign Obesity a Myth, Even If Blood Pressure, Cholesterol 'Healthy,' Study Says

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Benign obesity a myth, researchers argue

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TORONTO - The notion that someone can be obese yet still healthy is a myth, say researchers, who found that obesity carries a higher risk of premature death compared to that of normal-weight people, regardless of cholesterol, blood pressure and blood-sugar readings.

In an analysis of data pooled from several previous studies, researchers at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital found people who were obese but metabolically healthy had a significantly increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke and of dying prematurely.

"Our research findings challenge the myth that there is such a thing as healthy obesity if people maintain normal-range readings of cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure," said endocrinologist Dr. Ravi Retnakaran, co-author of the study in this week's Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers reviewed eight studies from the last decade, which included a total of more than 61,000 participants who were followed for a mean period of 11 years. Almost 4,000 of the subjects had cardiovascular events such as a heart attack of stroke.

The studies evaluated subjects' metabolic status, including cholesterol levels, blood-sugar levels and blood pressure. Measurements also included waist circumference, as excess abdominal fat tissue can contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes, for example.

The studies compared fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events, as well as other causes of death like cancer, across three weight categories -- normal, overweight and obese.

Researchers said the comparative risks for premature death in the three weight groups became especially apparent after 10 years of followup.

Lead author Dr. Caroline Kramer said that even in the absence of such markers as high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, an obese person with a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater had a 24 per cent higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke or of early death compared to a normal-weight person.

"So we are telling people and doctors that it is not OK to be obese, even though you don't have metabolic abnormalities," Kramer said in an interview Monday. "This excess of weight still confers increased risk for cardiovascular events. …