TIME Obesity

The Question of Healthy Obesity Continues

Is the obesity paradox real?

In a new review published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers looked at 36 studies and found that among people with coronary artery disease, those with a high BMI had the lowest cardiovascular mortality risk compared to people with a normal weight.

The researchers say it’s further evidence of an obesity paradox, where being overweight or obese actually protects people from heart-related death.

Now, there are a few things to point out before we accept headlines like “Yes, Healthy Obesity Exists.” For one, the study population already had heart disease, and being obese puts people at a greater risk for heart-related ailments like stroke and high blood pressure. Second, it’s possible that the reasons the obese people had better outcomes was because they are more likely to be prescribed heart medications like statins compared to the normal population. It’s also possible that there is some sort of protective benefit from body fat that makes obese people less likely to have the worst effects from heart disease.

But doctors are not quick to conclude that being obese can protect your health. After all, the new study was looking at people who were already sick. But many in the medical community will agree that there are other factors critical to health that have nothing to do with the number on the scale, and that ultimately, concentrating on a person’s lifestyle behaviors over their size is a good strategy.

Read more of our coverage on the obesity paradox here.

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