Doctors are saying we need a new definition of obesity because even people who are at a healthy weight can be fat. It’s called “normal weight obesity” or, in the popular media, “skinny-fat,” and it can happen to you.
If you look slim and trim in your clothes, but flabby and soft undressed, you’re probably skinny-fat. Unfortunately, this problem affects people who have worked hard to lose weight and it creeps up on those small-boned, slender people who’ve never had trouble with their weight in the first place.
That’s because being skinny-fat isn’t about weight.
Being skinny-fat means you may look thin, but you have too much body fat and too little muscle to be healthy, and it’s not just a problem because you won’t look good in a bathing suit. It’s a problem because it can kill you.
We all know that being overweight leads to health problems, but, according to a recent issue of the journal, Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, the presence of excess body fat, even in normal weight individuals, raises the risk of health problems at least as much and maybe more than it does in overweight people.
The study shows that increased body fat, even for normal weight people, is associated with an “increased risk for [metabolic syndrome] and each one of its components.”
“Metabolic syndrome” refers to all of the risk factors, such as high blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, bad cholesterol, etc., that raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and dementia.
In fact, the study shows a more serious danger:
“Normal weight with central obesity in adults with coronary artery disease is associated with the highest risk of mortality.”
In other words, skinny-fat people who have heart trouble are more likely to die from it than overweight people!
So, why haven’t we heard more about this?
According to the article, although researchers have been working in the field of normal weight obesity since the early 80s, the definition of obesity has never been standardized. Clear definitions help scientists and doctors share information and make more accurate diagnoses. But, as it stands now, healthcare professionals have no reliable way to determine obesity. The study says that even BMI is not a good measure:
“The main limitation of BMI is that it cannot differentiate BF [body fat] from lean mass…. Therefore, athletes with enhanced body muscle mass may be misclassified as obese… whereas people with low lean mass but high BF content may still have a normal BMI.”
In other words, BMI won’t work at all for athletes or for people who are skinny-fat. And, yet the skinny-fat person may be at high risk for serious health problems.
So, what are you to do? Well, if your doctor doesn’t know what skinny-fat is, you’d better! Fortunately, once you know that you are in danger, the risks of being skinny-fat can often be reversed. You’ll know to be tested for insulin response and to keep an eye on your cholesterol, and you’ll know you can’t eat like a teenager anymore, even if you can still fit into the jeans you wore in high school. A healthier diet and an exercise regimen that includes muscle building will keep you looking good and feeling good for a long time to come.