New Study De-bunks “Fat but Fit” Theory

Posted 02/22/2016 | By HealthCorps

A new study pretty much disses the myth that you can be “fat but fit.” The results from the new study actually points out that obesity diminishes the normally protective and beneficial effects of fitness efforts against early death (and disease).

Studies confirm that a sedentary lifestyle can raise your risk of succumbing to a number of conditions, and can raise your risk of premature death. A commitment to aerobic fitness can avert risk for these conditions, help to balance your food intake and weight, and lower your risk of premature death. There have been few studies that specifically look at how aerobic fitness affects the health of younger individuals.

The study

Swedish researchers followed 1.3 million men for an average of 29 years to track associations between aerobic fitness and death later in life. They also focused on how obesity might affect the outcomes.

Study findings

Men who were in the highest percentile of aerobic fitness (upper fifth) had a 48% lower risk of death from any cause, compared to men in the lower fifth. An unexpected finding was a strong association between death from trauma and low aerobic fitness. The researchers also examined the “fat but fit premise.” Men of normal weight, regardless of fitness levels, were at lower risk of death compared to obese individuals in the highest percentile of fitness. Still, a level of fitness in a person with obesity has benefits and should be an ongoing goal. It is, however, important to dispel the myth that a person with obesity is somehow protected from death by being active. This study confirms that anyone struggling with obesity should certainly aim to exercise daily, but must shed pounds to reduce overall mortality from all causes.

Takeaway message for overweight children or teens

The study’s findings make it even more important to intervene and help overweight children or teens to lose excess weight, so they don’t continue to carry this excess weight or gain more weight as they transition into early adulthood. One method that pediatricians sometimes use to try and keep a child at a certain weight and allow growth in height to occur, so that BMI is reduced over a period of a growth spurt. If a child or young teen is severely overweight, they may need to shed pounds too (with calorie restriction), as growth spurts help to lower their BMI. Getting an overweight child or teen to exercise or play sports can also help with energy balance and weight reduction. Commitment to exercise is a good health habit. Still, the ultimate goal should be attaining a healthy BMI. That mostly occurs with dietary changes.

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