It's become an axiom of health that overweight and obese people are not as healthy as their normal weight counterparts. In fact, obesity has been targeted as one of the country's most serious public health problems, with predictions of widespread heart disease, diabetes and cancer among the growing number of Americans who are overweight. But what if that's not always correct? Is it possible for some people to be overweight or even obese and still be healthy? Researchers from the Weight Management Services Program at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine think so, and they have some surprising statistics to back that opinion up.

The researchers analyzed the records of 454 individuals who were seen as patients at the medical school. Each of the individuals in the study had a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, a standard for defining obesity, and the group's average body fat percentage was over 46 percent. The UMDNJ analysis revealed a distinct sub-group of 135 metabolically healthy obese (MHO) individuals who, despite their high BMIs and body fat percentages, had essentially none of the measureable health risks high blood pressure or elevated blood sugar or cholesterol levels normally associated with obesity. Another sub-group of 167 individuals was categorized as medically unhealthy obese (MUO) because their corresponding results for the same measurements indicated an elevated risk for chronic disease.

"Our results indicate that metabolically healthy obese individuals may represent as much as 20 to 30 percent of obese population," said Dr. Adarsh Gupta, director of Weight Management Services at the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine, who, along with Dr. Gwynn Coatney, conducted the research. "This highlights the need for clinicians to be cautious when using obesity as a criterion for prescribing treatment. Researchers, too, need to be careful to distinguish between the metabolically healthy and metabolically unhealthy when analyzing data involving a group of obese individuals."

Overall, the MHO group was younger (average age 37.4 years) than the MUO patients (average age 45.4 years) and more likely to be female. At the time of the study, none of the MHO individuals took medications for treatment of diabetes or high cholesterol. By contrast, 17.4 percent of the MUO individuals were being treated for diabetes and more than 30 percent were prescribed medications to help lower their cholesterol levels. Additionally, the MUO group was three times more likely (22.5 percent vs. 7.4 percent) to have been prescribed medication to control high blood pressure.

The UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine is dedicated to providing excellence in medical education, research and health care for New Jersey and the nation. Working in cooperation with Kennedy University Hospital, its principal affiliate, the UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine places an emphasis on primary health care and community health services that reflect its osteopathic philosophy, with centers of excellence that demonstrate its commitment to developing clinically skillful, compassionate and culturally competent physicians from diverse backgrounds, who are prepared to become leaders in their communities.

Source: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)