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Not all obese people are unhealthy, just most.

Posted Sep 07 2008 2:22am

Scanning through blog after blog, a common theme floods the month of August. Several entries appear to cite this article or some other article that follows the same story. I read through the article and the wording throughout struck me to be quite odd.

In the study, about 51 percent of overweight adults, or roughly 36 million people nationwide, had mostly normal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood fats called triglycerides and blood sugar.

Almost one-third of obese adults, or nearly 20 million people, also were in this healthy range, meaning that none or only one of those measures was abnormal.

Yet about a fourth of adults in the recommended-weight range had unhealthy levels of at least two of these measures. That means 16 million of them are at risk for heart problems.

The wording appears to compare healthy to unhealthy. Most comparisons make a clear point by showing the contrast between like things. In any case, I later found this to be how the original journal article was also worded. I decided to stop reading journalists’ take on the paper and decided to show the data from it directly.

The following chart shows the percentage of people that have risk factors associated with heart disease.
Normal WeightOverweightObese
20-34 years old10.3%-52.3%
35-49 years old16.9% -68.9%
50-64 years old41.7% -79.6%
65-79 years old54.7% -85.7%
80+ years old56.2% -77.1%
20+ years old23.5%48.7%68.3%

Unfortunately the journal article did not mention age specific percents for the overweight category.

Looking at the data in that form one does not see obesity as equaling unhealthiness, just significantly MORE unhealthy than being a normal weight. Also the risk factors affect the obese at a very young age. This should have been what most of the news sources were reporting. Instead we saw headlines like “ Some Obese Individuals Appear ‘Metabolically Healthy,’ Without Increased Cardiovascular Risk,” “ Half of overweight adults may be heart-healthy,” or “ Overweight doesn’t always mean heart risks.”

The news spread like mad into blogs and with that came several entries like this. Browsing through the comments one quickly sees how the majority feels that they fall into the obese but HEALTHY category (statistics from the study shows otherwise). The sad fact remains that this study only focused on ONE aspect of health. Who knows what other diseases follow similar trends.

In any case, the study shows that not everyone lives a healthy lifestyle (regardless of size). BMI remains an archaic method of determining health. Childhood obesity needs to be addressed, as potential risk factors are significantly higher for obese children.

Living a high quality life free from disease may be impossible, but cutting risk factors can aid you in the goal. This study shows that losing weight can help.

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