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Fat and active better than thin and sedentary

health and fitness Updated: Aug 16, 2008 23:59 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Not all thin people are fit and not all overweight people are unfit. Confused? You have reason to be. New research suggests that some fat people can be fit, if not fitter, than thin people and stereotypes about body size can be misleading.

Turning conventional wisdom on its head, researchers now say that overweight and obese people can be metabolically healthy, while thin people may have several risk factors for heart disease associated with obesity, such as high bad cholesterol levels.

Expectedly, the news devastated my friend, the obsessive weight-watcher. “I’m sure the stupid study is full of holes. Get some of your nutritionist and cardiologists friends to read and rubbish it. These researchers can’t do it to me, not after all the desserts I have given up to stay thin,” she ranted. All I could do was sympathise. It is difficult to rubbish a peer-reviewed — screened and approved by other experts in the field — study that has based its findings on national health data collected from 5,440 adults, in this case, in the US.

Published in the highly respected medical journal, The Archives of Internal Medicine, the study proved that weight is not always a reliable barometer for health by factoring in a clutch of health indices, including blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein. High levels of all these are a risk factor for heart disease.

My svelte friend was not convinced. “Does this mean my risk of heart disease is as high as a sumo wrestler?” Probably, I told her. Though a sumo wrestler may weigh over 200 kg, he would be far more active than my friend, whose idea of exercise is walking up to the elevator or her car. Besides the pushing and shoving inside the ring, sumo wrestlers train for speed, agility and overall fitness, which protects them from obesity-related diseases such as heart problems
and diabetes.

They even have a low risk of death. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in December last year that overweight people who are fit, as judged by a treadmill test, had a lower risk of death than those with normal weight but low fitness levels. It’s no surprise then, that sumo wrestlers live to be 80 years old and more.

This, of course, does not mean that overweight people make no effort to shed their excess flab. It’s well established that it is better to be active and fat than being thin and sedentary, and all the new data does is confirm the unreliability of body size as an indicator for overall health.

The overall health of thin people remained better than that of the overweight or obese. The study found that twice as many — about 50 per cent — overweight people had two or more of the risk factors, as compared to 24 per cent thin adults. The bottomline is that it is your level of fitness and not weight that determines how healthy you are. That being healthy is not about how thin or fat you are, but about active you are.

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