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Half of plus sizes "heart healthy"
A new study from America suggests
that a surprising number of "overweight" people - about
half - have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while
an equally startling number of trim people suffer from some of
the ills associated with obesity.
The first US national estimate
of its kind bolsters the argument that you can be hefty but still
healthy, or at least healthier than previously believed by doctors
and "experts". The results also show that stereotypes
about body size can be misleading, and that even skinny people
can have risk factors commonly associated with obesity, said study
author Mary-Fran Sowers, a University of Michigan obesity researcher.
"We're really talking about taking a look with a very different
lens" at weight and health risks, Sowers said.
In the study, about 51 percent
of overweight adults, or roughly 36 million Americans, had mostly
normal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood fats called
triglycerides and blood sugar. Almost one-third of obese adults,
or nearly 20 million people, also were in this healthy range,
meaning that none or only one of those measures was abnormal.
Yet about 25% of adults in the recommended-weight range had unhealthy
levels of at least two of these measures. That means some 16 million
of them are at risk for heart problems.
It's no secret that thin people can develop heart-related problems
and that fat people often do not. But that millions defy the stereotypes
will come as a surprise to many people, Sowers said.
Dr. Robert Eckel, a former American
Heart Association president and professor of medicine at the University
of Colorado, said the new research may help dismiss some of the
generalizations that are sometimes made about weight and health.
Study co-author Judith Wylie-Rosett emphasized that the study
shouldn't send the message "that we don't need to worry about
weight." That's because half of overweight people do face
elevated risks for heart disease, explained Wylie-Rosett, a nutrition
researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
But, for those without elevated risks, losing weight "might
be important only from a cosmetic perspective," she said.
To arrive at the estimates, scientists
analyzed nationally representative government surveys involving
5,440 people age 20 and over, and extrapolated to calculate nationwide
figures. The new study, from August's issue of the Archives of
Internal Medicine, used government surveys from 1999 to 2004 that
included lab tests and height and weight measurements. Participants
reported on habits including smoking and physical activity.
In all weight categories, risk
factors for heart problems were generally more common in older
people, smokers and inactive people. Among obese people who were
50 to 64, just 20 percent were considered healthy compared with
half of younger obese people.
The results underscore how important
exercise is for staying healthy, even for people of healthy weight,
The authors noted that fat tissue
releases hormones and other substances that affect things like
blood vessels, cholesterol and blood sugar. The results suggest
this interaction varies among overweight and obese people, the
authors said. The results also add to mounting evidence that thick
waists are linked with heart risks.
Among people of healthy weight in the study, elevated blood pressure,
cholesterol and other factors were more common for people with
larger waists or potbellies. This often signals internal fat deposits
surrounding abdominal organs, which previous research has shown
can be especially risky.
Similarly, among overweight and
obese adults, those in the "healthy" category tended
to have smaller waists than those with at least two risk factors.
Dr. Lewis Landsberg, a Northwestern University obesity expert,
said that the study shows that waist measurements can help assess
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