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Irrespective of where you go and whom you meet, you will find people who will tell you that obesity is bad for your health. It is true that obesity has been associated with a host of serious diseases like diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases. It is also a precursor to diseases like arthritis, gall stones, infertility, cancers and many other serious ailments.
Worldwide, the incidence of obesity has been steadily increasing. Earlier, obesity was considered as a malaise of developed countries. In US alone, around 40% of the population is grappling with the problem of obesity. Now, the condition is becoming increasingly common in many developing countries too.
However, an important question that comes to mind on this occasion is that whether all obese people are unhealthy? If we look around carefully, we will find at least some people whom, though being overweight or obese, carry on with their work as efficiently as any person with a normal weight would. And they do not seem to be suffering from any major ailment either. Then, is it fair to blame all types of obesity as bad?
Several studies carried out in the recent past have identified a set of people who the scientists call as “metabolically healthy obese individuals.” These individuals may have a BMI of more than 30, but do not suffer from any of the problems that generally plague obese people. Their cholesterol levels are normal, their blood pressure is not elevated and they show no signs of insulin resistance.
Difference between an obese individual and a metabolically healthy obese individual
So, what makes a metabolically healthy obese different from other obese people? Scientists have observed that when a person is obese, fat initially deposits in the adipose cells present in the subcutaneous tissue. But as more and more fat accumulates in these cells, the mitochondria present in these cells are damaged. They are no longer able to convert glucose into energy. Moreover, these cells lose their ability to regenerate. As no new fat cells are formed, these cells bulge to their capacity and ultimately die. There is inflammation around these fat cells and when the cells burst, the fat gets accumulated into organs like the liver, heart, blood vessels and skeletal muscles- tissues where it is not meant to accumulate.
In contrast, in metabolically healthy obese individuals, which comprise of around one-thirds of all obese individuals, the fat remains in the adipose cells present in the subcutaneous tissue and does not spills over to other tissues. Therefore, these individuals continue to enjoy a good health even though the fat content in their body is much higher than normal.