Medical Mystery: Obese People Can Be Metabolically Healthy

By Donna Bellevue , Mar 10, 2017 02:04 AM EST

Obese people are at the center of a medical mystery recently as a new study finds that some adults who are overweight or obese don’t have the typical risk factors for heart disease or diabetes. Researchers discover that 1 in 7 obese participants don't have high blood pressure, metabolic disorders, and risky cholesterol levels. It's not clear why some people with obesity are able to avoid these problems, but scientists have dubbed this group the "metabolically healthy obese."

Obesity often brings with it a host of health problems, especially metabolic disorders such as diabetes. However, in one of the largest studies to date in the US, researchers find that of 1.3 million overweight and obese people studied, 14 percent had normal blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure readings. These "cardiometabolic" measures help identify people at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke or developing type 2 diabetes.

However, the medical mystery in obese people has a downside. "Just because they don't currently have risk factors doesn't mean they're not going to," lead author Gregory Nichols Nichols, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, says. The absence of risk factors doesn't mean they're healthy, he adds.

According to the US News, obese people could still have more joint problems, and they're more likely to get certain cancers. They're at risk for kidney disease, too. Additionally, the participants who were free of metabolic risk factors at the time of the study may soon develop them in the future.

The study suggests this might be true in obese people with the medical mystery, as less than 2.8 percent of overweight and obese people age 80 and older had zero risk factors, versus more than 29 percent of those ages 20 to 34, the Live Science reports. Thus, people who are obese should still aim to lose weight, even if they appear healthy, researchers recommend. Weight loss could improve other types of health problems and might reduce the likelihood of developing cardiometabolic risk factors.

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