Some people call it the “obesity paradox.” There are studies that suggest that some obese people are at no greater risk for heart disease and cancer than trim people and may even have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. None of these findings come from the kind of controlled studies that are needed to lay a medical controversy to rest, however. And you would be ill-advised to pounce on a bag of potato chips to improve your cardiovascular or other fitness.
The danger of a pot belly
“Not everyone who is obese develops heart disease,” says Steven Nissen, MD, chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “But being obese is not healthy. We’ve become particularly aware of the increased danger posed by abdominal fat – the fat that accumulates beneath the abdominal wall and gives you a ‘pot belly’ or makes you apple shaped. These intra-abdominal fat cells are metabolically active, releasing at least 80 different chemicals and hormones that promote diabetes, inflammation and lipid changes.”
Dr. Nissen shares that obesity accounts for 300,000 deaths every year in America alone and rejects the view of some doctors that some patients can be classed as “metabolically healthy obese.” He notes that there are careful studies demonstrating that individuals with excess weight and normal cholesterol levels still face an increased risk of developing heart disease when compared to metabolically healthy people of normal weight.
Dr. Nissen’s advice
“Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk for other conditions besides cardiovascular disease, – including cancer and osteoarthritis,” says Dr. Nissen. “Overweight is a major risk factor for young people having joint problems resulting in the need for a hip or knee replacement. Overweight and obesity in particular reduce both the quality and duration of life. Ask your doctor to assess your weight relative to your health and get a recommendation on a weight loss program if you need one.”