Living an active lifestyle is not enough to counteract the negative effects of being overweight on heart health. This emerges from a new study published today that challenges the idea that fitness is more important than weight to a healthy lifestyle, and urges policymakers to rethink health initiatives that prioritize physical activity over weight loss.
New research challenges the idea that fitness can offset the negative health effects of health … [+]
The researchers analyzed data from over 500,000 adults and grouped individuals based on activity level and body weight, and rated their heart health based on three main risk factors for stroke and heart attack: diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Overweight and obese study participants were more likely to have high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure compared to normal weight counterparts at any activity level, the researchers wrote in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, a finding that existed in men and women were analyzed separately.
While being active has been linked to better heart health for everyone, study author Dr. Alejandro Lucia of the European University in Madrid, the results suggest that “exercise does not seem to compensate for the negative effects of being overweight”, contradicting the popular notion that one can be “fat but healthy”.
Lucia said the thought “has led to controversial proposals for health policies that prioritize physical activity and fitness over weight loss.” He believes that guidelines should be reconsidered to make “weight loss … a primary goal” for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease overweight and obese people.
While a significant amount of research shows that being active protects against any number of diseases, the effect of body weight has proven more controversial. Many, as Lucia noted, support the idea that you can be “fat but fit” and there is evidence that fitness can help make up for excess weight. This paper is unlikely to resolve this controversy and it has a number of methodological flaws that would need to be addressed in order to finally resolve the matter. Professor Keith Frayn, Professor Emeritus of Human Metabolism at Oxford University, said this “should only be used as a starting point” when it comes to the relationship between fitness, weight and health. According to Frayn, the design of the study means that there may have been overlooked health factors that “are not necessarily included in the blood measurements reported here,” as well as benefits that “go beyond protecting against cardiovascular (and) metabolic disease.”
Michael Pencina, vice dean of data science and information technology at Duke University School of Medicine, told CNN that the study could not lead to any conclusion about the cause of disease. “This is a cross-sectional study,” he said. “We can only talk about associations.” For example, the study can’t tell us whether a person got active because they were obese or was active and still got obese, explained Pencina.
Professor Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said the “study complements existing evidence that there is no such thing as” healthy obesity “and” confirms that physical activity protects against these risk factors “.
Common Association of Physical Activity and Body Mass Index with Cardiovascular Risk: A Nationwide Population-Based Cross-sectional Study (European Journal of Preventative Cardiology)
“Fat but fit” is a myth when it comes to heart health, new study shows (CNN)
“Fat but fit”? The controversy continues (NYT)