New study shows you can't be obese and healthy

Jan 6, 2015 at 4:21 p.m. ET

In recent years, many people have questioned whether it is possible to be obese and healthy. Studies have reportedly shown that if you take a thin person who has never seen the inside of a gym and compare him to an overweight person who has, the person carrying extra weight is in a much better place health-wise. This may be the case, but not when you're talking about the long-term affects of obesity, according to a new study.

British researchers kept track of the body mass indexes of 2,500 men and women for 20 years, keeping close watch on their cholesterol levels, blood pressures, fasting glucose amounts and insulin resistance levels. Here's what they discovered: "Fat but fit" is not an attainable reality for most people when you're talking about maintaining that level of fitness over the course of several years. Even if some of their subjects were obese at the start of the study but otherwise perfectly healthy, those people were more likely to suffer from heart disease as the years progressed.

The bottom line: Even "healthy obesity" is a "high-risk state," because the odds are in favor of progressing to an unhealthy obese state rather than staying stable or losing weight.

Out of all the test subjects who began the study with a BMI score of 30 or greater — which is considered "obese" — more than 51 percent were deemed "unhealthy" after two decades.

And, as we know, 20 years isn't a lifetime. Researchers are warning folks that a number of others involved in the study who started off obese may develop diseases and risk factors in years to come because "obesity affects virtually every organ in the body," according to Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of clinical cardiology at National Jewish Health Medical Center in Denver. And "...the longer you are obese, the less likely it is that you will stay healthy."

The evidence seems clear: No matter how healthy we may be, if we are carrying extra weight, we aren't as healthy as we could be, and eventually those extra pounds could seriously affect our overall health.

More on obesity

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Health benefits of being overweight?

Childhood obesity: How big of a problem is it?

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