Being Overweight Is Never Healthy – Even If You’re Fit

You need to lose weight and get fit to be healthy.
You need to lose weight and get fit to be healthy.

Is it okay to be fat if you’re fit? The science says no. Being overweight is bad for your health, even if you’re fit.

Over the years several pieces of research have claimed that people who were fit but overweight were often healthier than those who were slim and inactive. Overweight builders were compared to slim office clerks, and the conclusion was that builders were healthier. New research has determined that this was simply wrong.

A research piece published in Annals of Internal Medicine looked at the health and fitness of 60,000 people who were detailed in over 1000 other published research papers.

The research concluded that there was no healthy pattern of increased weight with respect to heart health, meaning that being overweight will always increase the risk of heart problems. Even people with low blood pressure, health blood glucose levels and health cholesterol levels were all just as likely to develop heart problems if they were overweight.

Those who are overweight and active may have a healthy metabolism, but the excess fat is likely to be causing other risk factors which worsen over time.

Study leader Dr Ravi Retnakaran told BBC News: “This really casts doubt on the existence of healthy obesity.

“This data is suggesting that both patients who are obese who are metabolically unhealthy and patients who are obese who are metabolically healthy are both at increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, such that benign obesity may indeed be a myth.”

Obesity is linked with type 2 diabetes, and around 3/4 of people with T2 Diabetes will eventually succumb to a fatal heart condition. Diabetes causes long-term damage to the vascular system and over time blood vessels which support the heart become damaged. This is likely to be one of the reasons for high death rates for the obese.

Of course, it is still better to be overweight and active, rather than overweight an inactive. Of course, the ideal situation is to be a healthy weight and fit.

The BBC reported in September 2012 that “People can be fat yet fit, research suggests.” The research showed how some obese people were “metabolically fit”, and therefore it was assumed that they were at a reduce risk of heart disease.

Michael Mosley’s documentary on exercise also claimed that a few minutes of intensive exercise was healthy because it helps to reduce risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. This is also often the argument for interval training.

In 2005 Harvard University said that “physical activity will offset some of the effects of excess weight”. Prior to this, in 2003, the Harvard Health Policy Review stated that “[A] fit man carrying 50 pounds of body fat had a death rate less than one-half that of an unfit man with only 25 pounds of body fat.”

In 1999 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that “Unfit, lean men had twice the risk of all-cause mortality as did fit, lean men and also had higher risk of all-cause mortality when compared with fit, obese men.”

This was one of the first studies to spark the argument that it was possible to be fit and fat. However, what few people noted was that the research actually concluded that “health benefits of leanness are limited to fit men” and it only speculated that being fit may benefit obese men. The key message was that being skinny and unfit was not healthy.

News source:

Research paper:

“Are Metabolically Healthy Overweight and Obesity Benign Conditions?: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” by Caroline K. Kramer, MD, PhD; Bernard Zinman, CM, MD; and Ravi Retnakaran, MD

The research paper had the following objective:

To determine the effect of metabolic status on all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events in normal-weight, overweight, and obese persons.

The paper concluded that:

Compared with metabolically healthy normal-weight individuals, obese persons are at increased risk for adverse long-term outcomes even in the absence of metabolic abnormalities, suggesting that there is no healthy pattern of increased weight.


Is it okay to be fat if you’re fit? Harvard Medical School, May 2005. (accessed December 2013).

Cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in men” by Chong Do Lee, Steven N Blair, and Andrew S Jackson. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. March 1999 vol. 69 no. 3 373-380

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