Can you be overweight and healthy?

Can you be overweight and healthy? While health experts aren’t quite sure about the answer to this question, most agree that being overweight is not good for you.

“The latest science is quite clear that excess weight can carry considerable health risks, including a higher risk for heart attack and stroke,” says Dr Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“While there is no one-size-fits-all number when it comes to a person’s ideal weight, men should not ignore significant weight gain and the implications it has for their future health.”

A study conducted by Michigan State University researchers suggested that heavier people may outlive lighter people.

However, the majority of research shows that overweight people are more likely to get heart disease, cancer or die before those of ideal or close to ideal weight. There is a consistent correlation between weight gain and health problems.

Take for instance a study published online by the European Heart Journal, which analysed around 300,000 people of various weights, who did not have any sign of heart disease at the commencement of the study.

After four years, the researchers checked in with these people and that found those with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) had a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure. They found that the fatter the person, the more likely they were to fall prey to these health conditions.

In fact, men who added 12cm to their waistline raised their heart disease risk by 16 per cent.

Another study published on JAMA Cardiology found that overweight middle-aged men shortened their lives by almost six years compared to men of a normal weight.

Being overweight makes you more susceptible to sleep apnoea, joint pain and arthritis, and can increase your resistance to insulin, which can lead to diabetes – all life-shortening conditions.

“But if you take off the weight, often many of these issues are reversible, even with just a modest amount of weight loss,” says Dr Plutzky.

The type of weight you carry has a bearing on your health. Subcutaneous fat – extra fat that accumulates just under the skin causes few health issues, says Dr Plutzky.

Visceral fat which is stored at waist level in the abdominal cavity, surrounds vital organs and is more dangerous. The more visceral fat you carry the higher your risk of heart disease, increased blood pressure, blood sugar and total cholesterol levels.

“Some people can accumulate visceral fat in a way that is much less visible,” says Dr Plutzky.

Anyone whose waist measures 100cm or more is in danger. Anyone who is 1-3kg overweight (according to BMI) is okay – for the time being.

“Before you know it, five pounds (2.2kg) can easily turn into 10 pounds (4.5kg) and then 15 pounds (6.8kg), and then your weight becomes a more serious issue.”

However, everyone who carries some extra weight may not necessarily be at risk.

“A person’s overall cardiovascular disease risk is made up of a combination of factors besides weight, including family history, prior or current smoking and high blood pressure,” says Dr Plutzky. “Also, some people just weigh more than others because they have more muscle and bone mass.”

In short, a couple of extra kilos may not be doing you too much harm, but you should do all you can to get back to a healthy weight – or die sooner.

Do you worry about your weight? Are you healthy, even though you may be carrying a few extra kilos?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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