Obese woman with doctor
Obesity

Warning to Doctors about "Healthy Obesity"

Researchers are warning physicians to pay attention to the increased cardiovascular health risks of patients who are classed as either ‘healthy obese’ or deemed to be ‘normal weight’ but have metabolic abnormalities such as diabetes.

Academics at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research carried out the largest study of its kind to date comparing weight and metabolic status to cardiovascular disease risks, published September 11 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The study showed that individuals who are ‘metabolically healthy obese’ (MHO) – those who are obese but do not suffer metabolic abnormalities such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease events compared to those who are normal weight without metabolic abnormalities.

The academics used electronic health records of 3.5 million British adults who were all initially free of cardiovascular disease (CVD). They then revisited each patient’s record, at an average of 5 years and four months later, in order to assess whether they had gone on to develop each of four kinds of CVD events – coronary heart disease (CHD), cerebrovascular disease (in particular strokes), heart failure, or peripheral vascular disease (PVD).

The results showed that those who were MHO had a 49 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease, seven per cent higher risk of cerebrovascular disease and a 96 per cent increased risk of heart failure than normal weight metabolically healthy individuals.

Importantly, it also showed that ‘normal’ weight individuals with one or more metabolic abnormalities had an increased risk of CHD, cerebrovascular disease, heart failure and PVD compared to normal weight individuals without metabolic abnormalities.

The research results raise questions around the concept of ‘healthy obesity’. Whether metabolically healthy obesity is associated with excess risk of cardiovascular disease has remained a subject of debate for many years due to limitations in previous studies.

Lead author and epidemiologist Dr Rishi Caleyachetty, of the Institute of Applied Health Research University of Birmingham, said: “In our study, we had unprecedented statistical power to examine body size phenotypes by the number of metabolic abnormalities, potentially reflecting several definitions of the ‘metabolically healthy’ phenotype in relation to a range of CVD events.

“Obese individuals with no metabolic risk factors are still at a higher risk of coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and heart failure than normal weight metabolically healthy individuals.

“So-called ‘metabolically healthy’ obesity is clearly not a harmless condition and the term should no longer be used in order to prevent misleading individuals that obesity can be healthy.”