A few facts about obesity are in order before we digress to our main topic of the dangers of obesity vs. the lack of fitness. These facts are taken right from a page of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
More than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese. [Read abstract Journal of American Medicine (JAMA)]
Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. [Read guidelines]
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. [Read summary]
[Read abstract Journal of American Medicine (JAMA)]
Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (47.8%) followed by Hispanics (42.5%), non-Hispanic whites (32.6%), and non-Hispanic Asians (10.8%)
Obesity is higher among middle age adults, 40-59 years old (39.5%) than among younger adults, age 20-39 (30.3%) or adults over 60 or above (35.4%) adults.
Obesity and socioeconomic status
Among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men, those with higher incomes are more likely to have obesity than those with low income.
Higher income women are less likely to have obesity than low-income women are.
There is no significant relationship between obesity and education among men. Among women, however, there is a trend—those with college degrees are less likely to have obesity compared with less educated women. (CDC, 2015).
These are sobering, grim statistics indeed, which prepare us in a way for the main topic at hand.
A new study, published in theInternational Journal of Epidemiology, refuted the concept of ‘fat but fit’. The study, in fact, states that the prophylactic effects of fitness against early death are greatly reduced in obese people.
Up to this point, the effects of low aerobic fitness have been documented on older populations. Very few studies have investigated a direct link between aerobic fitness and health in younger populations. This study by academics in Sweden followed 1,317,713 men for a median average of 29 years to examine the association between aerobic fitness and death later in life, as well as how obesity affected these results. The subjects’ aerobic fitness was tested by asking them to cycle until they had to stop due to fatigue. (Oxford University Press, 2015).
Men in the highest fifth or top 20% of aerobic fitness had a 48% lower risk of death from any cause compared with those in the lowest 20%. Stronger associations of observed deaths were related to suicide, alcohol abuse, and narcotics in the lower 20th percentile. Unexpectedly, the authors noted a strong association between low aerobic fitness and deaths related to trauma. Co-author Peter Nordström has no explanation for this finding: “We could only speculate, but genetic factors could have influenced these associations given that aerobic fitness is under strong genetic control.” (Oxford University Press, 2015).
This study also evaluated the misconception that ‘fat but fit is ok’. It’s startling finding revealed men of a normal weight, regardless of their fitness level, were at lower risk of death in comparison to obese individuals in the highest 25% of aerobic fitness. The study went on to say that, the relative benefits of high fitness might still be greater in obese people. The study ended with one caveat, the effect of a higher fitness profile was reduced with increased obesity; in those with extreme morbid obesity, it was no significant effect at all.
Even with the limitations that this study cohort included only men, and relative early deaths, the amassed data in no way supports the notion that ‘fat but fit’ is a self-limiting condition.
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Högström, G., Nordström, A., & Nordström, P. (November 10, 2015 ).
Aerobic fitness in late adolescence and the risk of early death: a prospective cohort study of 1.3 million Swedish men. Retrieved January 12, 2016, from International Journal of Epidemiology: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/12/20/ije.dyv321
Oxford University Press. (2015, December 20). Obesity more dangerous than lack of fitness, new study claims. Retrieved January 12, 2016, from EurekAlert: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-12/oup-omd121815.php
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