Debunking the myth of “healthy obesity”

I’ve never really bought into the idea of “healthy obesity.” 

The premise that some people who are overweight or obese may actually be healthy has always struck me as a pipedream, and a completely unrealistic expectation for most.  

So when I came across a recent study debunking the notion entirely, I knew I had to share it. Because this is one modern myth that all of us would be wise to question—and it won’t take long to see why.  

It’s just a matter of time   

Researchers analyzed data collected from nearly 400,000 people in the U.K. Biobank for more than a decade:  

  • More than 50 percent were neither obese nor metabolically unhealthy. 
  • Just under 10 percent had what we call “metabolically healthy” obesity. 
  • 20 percent were metabolically unhealthy and not obese. 
  • 16 percent were obese and metabolically unhealthy.  

In this study, “metabolically healthy” obesity meant having “normal” levels of at least four out of six key metabolic markers: blood pressure, C-reactive protein (CRP), triglycerides, LDL (“Bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar control).    

But here’s the thing: Even though so-called “metabolically healthy” obesity posed less of a health risk than metabolically unhealthy obesity, that risk was likely to heighten within three to five years’ time. 

Compared to non-obese and metabolically healthy people, the “metabolically healthy” obese people still had diabetes rates that were four times higher. Risk of heart disease was 18 percent higher, heart attack risk jumped by nearly 25 percent, and stroke risk increased by 10 percent.  

Risk of respiratory disease was also 28 percent higher—with a 19 percent higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a 76 percent higher risk of heart failure.    

Excuse me, but what constitutes this population as “healthy”? I don’t know about you, but that’s not a healthy person in my book. And obesity is one factor that we have complete control over! 

Yet for some reason, the medical community keeps dancing around the issue. Doctors just don’t know what to do with their growing population of obese patients. (Partly because there’s no simple pharmaceutical intervention. Partly because both society and the government have decided to turn a blind eye to the problem.)  

There are no shortcuts 

I know I’ve told this story many times before. But let me remind you that I was an overweight person from childhood through college—and I’ve been successful managing my weight ever since.   

But I didn’t achieve this success by going on a series of diets and yo-yoing incessantly. It wasn’t until I found the high-fat, low-carb lifestyle that my weight issues stopped being an issue.  

All it takes is daily persistence and effort. That’s why I always try to discuss long-term weight management rather than diet—especially since so many people associate the word “diet” with punishment. When truly, it doesn’t have to be that way.  

Adopting a balanced diet full of fresh, whole foods is actually quite delicious and satisfying. In fact, my A-List Diet is filled with various recipes using a number of healthy foods—from lean protein and fresh produce, to nuts, dark chocolate, and more.  

(Those are also the ingredients I always cook with in my new show, Cooking with Dr. Fred. Don’t miss an episode on Instagram TV or YouTube!)  

In the end, a commitment to proper nutrition is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, whether you’re “metabolically healthy” or not. So what are you waiting for? 


Healthy with obesity? The latest study casts doubt.” Clinical Endocrinology News, 06/16/21. (