Benign Obesity Nothing More Than a Myth

New research shows that absence of disease doesn’t mean weight is not a factor

DAYTON, Ohio (March 12, 2014) – Past medical studies which say obese individuals are considered healthy as long as they do not suffer from traditional co-morbidity diseases such as hypertension and insulin resistance are simply untrue, according to a comprehensive research study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The condition – known as benign obesity – most often occurs with overweight individuals whose fat is stored in the peripheral areas of the body instead of around the body’s vital organs. Visceral fat – or fat located inside organs – has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Fat that lies directly under the skin and can be grasped in one’s hand sometimes tends not to be found in conjunction with the co-morbid conditions, said Mujeeb Siddiqui, DO, with Premier Metabolic and Bariatric Associates.

Still, the idea that one can be healthy while carrying around extra weight is misleading and inaccurate. Some obese individuals may be given a reprieve from many health conditions in the short-term, but the long-term impact of carrying around the extra weight is undeniable.

“This study suggests that there is no healthy pattern of increased weight,” Dr. Siddiqui said. “If you are overweight, your long-term risk of pre-mature death increases.”

The study, completed by researchers at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, found people who were obese but metabolically healthy had a significantly increased risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke and dying prematurely. In fact, even without high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, an obese person with a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater had a 24 percent higher risk a heart attack or stroke or dying prematurely compared to a normal-weight person, the study’s researchers said.

Dr. Siddiqui, a v physician, hopes the study will be a wake-up call to physicians and patients alike. According to the National Institutes of Health, an average of 70 percent of men and women in the United States are overweight or obese. Despite the epidemic, it can be a sensitive subject inside a physician’s exam room. Moreover, patients don’t always see their weight as a problem since many of those living around them appear to be the same size.

“Many people look around and everyone else is overweight so they think, ‘Hey, I’m not overweight. I look the same as everyone else,’” Dr. Siddiqui said. “So they consider themselves normal with a BMI of 35. It may seem normal in the United States, but if you went to Europe or many other countries you would see a big difference.”

The impact that weight has on one’s body goes far beyond metabolic abnormalities. Someone who carries around an extra 100 pounds for 10 years or more could place significant stress on their joints and muscles. As a result, chronic back, knee and hip pain can set in and may eventually lead to surgery.

“These are issues that many people don’t pay attention to when they are ‘healthy.’” Dr. Siddiqui said. “But sooner or later it will catch up to them.”

Dr. Siddiqui often speaks at gatherings with primary care physicians and inevitably obesity is one of the top issues discussed. It’s a valid concern because obesity is much like the first domino in a string of concerns, potentially impacting the individual’s health and the overall economy. The Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in 2009 that annual medical expenditures attributable to obesity had doubled in less than a decade topping out at $147 billion per year.

Dr. Siddiqui said obesity must remain a top priority even when an individual appears not to suffer from obesity related conditions.

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