Authors warn against using body size as sole measure of good health, but other experts cite risks of too much weight
By Amy Norton
THURSDAY, Feb. 4, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Many overweight and obese Americans might be perfectly healthy when it comes to blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels -- while many thin folks may not be the picture of good health, a new study contends.
Using a government health survey, researchers found that nearly half of overweight U.S. adults were "metabolically healthy."
That meant they had no more than one risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease -- including high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol or triglyceride levels, elevated blood sugar, or high concentrations of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the blood vessels).
Among obese adults, 29 percent were deemed healthy -- as were 16 percent of those who were severely obese based on body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height).
On the other hand, more than 30 percent of normal-weight Americans were metabolically unhealthy.
The researchers estimate that nearly 75 million Americans would be "misclassified" as heart-healthy if BMI is the only yardstick.
"The bigger picture we want to draw from our findings is that the dominant way of thinking about weight -- that higher-weight individuals will always be unhealthy -- is flawed," said Jeffrey Hunger, one of the researchers on the study and a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The study, published Feb. 4 in the International Journal of Obesity, is far from the first to find that obese adults can be in good shape as far as heart health. Researchers have debated the "fat but fit" theory for years.
By the same token, studies have shown, being thin is no guarantee of good health.
But, Hunger said, the new findings also help "solidify" the number of Americans who could be mistakenly deemed unhealthy based solely on BMI.
That has potential "real-world consequences," Hunger said. Many larger U.S. businesses offer employee wellness programs, which can include discounts on health insurance premiums for meeting certain goals, such as weight loss. Some employers penalize employees for not participating.
Hunger's team says the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has proposed rules that would allow employers to charge workers up to 30 percent of their health insurance costs if they fail to meet certain health criteria, including a specified BMI.