The message that obesity is unhealthy is drilled into our heads. We see reports on the news, watch shows like The Biggest Loser, scrutinize celebrities as they struggle with gains and losses, and the resounding message is this: “Drop the weight. Being fat is no good.”
But what if it’s not that simple? What if obese isn’t a catch-all equal to “unhealthy?”
In fact, recent research sheds light on a subgroup of obesity, called metabolically healthy obesity (MHO), in which obese individuals do not show an increased risk for negative health issues often associated with obesity, such as metabolic syndrome or cardiovascular disease.1 As researchers work to better understand MHO, one thing is clear: Obesity is a nuanced condition with a diverse set of possible outcomes.
MHO is generally described as an obesity phenotype: physical characteristics in a person that result from interactions between environment, lifestyle, and genetics.1 But researchers aren’t in agreement over the exact definition, which makes MHO complicated to study. One study using body mass index (BMI) found the prevalence of MHO in obese individuals ranged from six to 36 percent (depending on how you define it).
Age and body-fat distributio…