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Obesity still health risk, even with normal blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol

Health risks call into question use of the term metabolically healthy obesity, researchers say. Photo by TeroVesalainen/Pixabay
Health risks call into question use of the term metabolically healthy obesity, researchers say. Photo by TeroVesalainen/Pixabay

June 10 (UPI) -- Having normal blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels does not mean that a person with obesity is actually healthy, an analysis published Thursday by the journal Diabetologia found.

This is because people who are severely overweight are at increased risk for diabetes, heart diseases, strokes and respiratory diseases, the researchers said.

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Compared to healthy people without obesity, people with obesity but healthy blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, a condition called metabolically healthy obesity, were 4.3 times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes, the data showed.

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In addition, they had an 18% higher risk for heart attack or stroke and a 76% higher risk for heart failure, according to the researchers.

They were also 28% more likely to develop a respiratory disease and 19% more likely to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD.

Based on these findings, the researchers called for the term metabolically healthy obesity to be avoided in medicine, "as it is misleading."

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"People with metabolically healthy obesity were at a substantially higher risk of diabetes, heart attack and stroke, heart failure, respiratory diseases and all-cause mortality compared with people who were not obese and with a healthy metabolic profile," they wrote.

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"Particularly worth noting is that people with metabolically healthy obesity had a higher risk of heart failure and respiratory disease than metabolically unhealthy participants without obesity," said the researchers, from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

As many as 300 million people globally, including 40% of U.S. adults, meet the criteria for obesity, or being severely overweight, based on World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.

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The ongoing "epidemics" of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and many other serious health problems are linked with obesity, the University of Glasgow researchers said.

Obesity typically causes elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance as well as increased blood pressure and other metabolic changes, they said.

However, these effects are not universal, and some people with obesity have normal levels of these and other important measures.

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This is called metabolically healthy obesity, and it is estimated to affect up to one-fifth of the world population, they said.

For this study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 380,000 adults in England, Scotland and Wales, who were overweight or obese, over a period of roughly 11 years.

They compared participants' body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other measures, as well as lifestyle habits, with the incidence of Type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke, heart failure and respiratory diseases within the study population.

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Those with metabolically healthy obesity were generally younger, watched less television, exercised more, had higher red and processed meat intake and were less likely to be male and non-white than participants with metabolically unhealthy obesity, the researchers said.

One-third of those with metabolically healthy obesity at the beginning of the study became metabolically unhealthy within three to five years, they said.

"Weight management could be beneficial to all people with obesity irrespective of their metabolic profile," they wrote.

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