No, I’m not talking about the pop culture oxymoron that describes thin yet flabby physiques. I’m talking about something more serious. Which brings me to my next point: SKINNY DOES NOT MEAN HEALTHY!
I REPEAT, SKINNY DOES NOT MEAN HEALTHY!
While some people may look deceivingly well in clothes, there may be something even more dangerous going on underneath the skin.
Why You Can be Skinny but also Fat
There is actually a scientific word for skinny-fat people: Metabolically Obese- Normal Weight (MONW). A thin person with a normal weight may actually be obese based on the amount of fat contained in his or her body. In fact, studies have found many people with normal weight to have a high percentage of body fat. So the number of obese people in the USA may actually be a lot higher than what is known now just based off the BMI values in our population.
In 2013, of US adults over 20 years of age, 35.1% were found to be obese and 69% were found to be overweight (including the number of obese people). Think about that, more than half of US adults are overweight, and what’s even more sad is that this number continues to grow. Along with obesity comes the growing number of obesity-related diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and even certain cancers, eventually leading to early death.
Overweight vs Obese
Being obese means having excessive body fat, whereas being overweight means weighing too much. The statistics mentioned above are based off of the body mass index or BMI of an individual. A BMI is a measurement of relative weight based on someone’s mass and height (weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared).
BMI greater than 25= overweight
BMI greater than 30= obese
The higher the BMI is, the higher your potential risk for developing debilitating diseases and even death. The problem, however, is that the BMI does not actually measure body fat. Muscles and body water are just a few other things that influence a person’s weight. A healthy and fit male who weighs 200 lb at 6 feet tall would be considered overweight based on his BMI of 27.
Why Being Skinny-Fat is So Dangerous
MONW individuals, as compared to people with normal weight and healthy fat levels, have been shown to have an increased risk for pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and risk of dying due to cardiovascular disease. It is thought that these individuals also contribute to the high prevalence of these diseases in our country.
So we have determined that it is not so much about how much you weigh, as it is about how much fat you have. So where is all the fat hiding? It turns out what’s more important is where the fat is located in your body. There are many different types of fat in the body. While subcutaneous fat (the fat you can pinch) may not be aesthetically pleasing, it’s the visceral fat, or the fat that surrounds the organs that is detrimental to our health. It’s this visceral fat that is associated more with the diseases I mentioned above. It’s true that people who are overweight are more likely to have a higher visceral fat content, as well as a larger abdominal circumference, which is also associated with obesity-related diseases. MONW individuals with smaller waists however also have a high content of this visceral fat as well.
It’s very important to note that this does not mean that it’s ok to be overweight either. People with excess body weight can also run into issues with severe arthritis, physical deconditioning, difficulty walking, difficulty breathing, sleep apnea, chronic pain and overall poor quality of life.
Are you a Skinny-Fat or MONW Person?
The best way to determine fat distribution is with radiologic imaging such as a CT scan, DEXA scan or MRI. These tests, however, are expensive and not covered by insurance for this diagnosis. An easy estimate of total body fat can be made by skin fold analysis which can be done by a personal trainer or healthcare professional.
Note the increased yellow fat tissue throughout the heavier individual. (I have been unable to find the original source for this picture as it has been widely circulated throughout the web. If anyone is aware of the original source, please contact me with the info.)
How NOT to be Skinny Fat… or Fat at all
So far it’s pretty obvious that it is not all about being thin, rather about being fit and healthy. Regardless of how much you weigh, if you feel you have excess body fat and are not fit, there is an answer. Research has shown time and time again that an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are the main causes for obesity, and that a healthy diet with routine exercise not only decreases the amount of body fat (both under the skin and around the organs) but that it can reverse diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and decrease your risk for stroke and heart attacks.
So the next time you get on the scale or look at yourself in the mirror, focus on whether or not you are healthy, rather than skinny. Your life literally depends on it.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Also a few questions to ponder:
Could you be a skinny-fat or MONW person?
Could you benefit from eating a healthier diet or exercising more?
1. CDC. 2014, May 14. Obesity and Overweight FastStats. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.
2. Rahman M, Berenson AB. Accuracy of current body mass index obesity classification for white, black, and Hispanic reproductive-age women. Obstet Gynecol 2010; 115: 982–88.
3. Romero-Corral A, Somers VK, Sierra-Johnson J, Korenfeld, Y, Boarin S, Korinek J, Jensen MD, Parati G, Lopez-Jimenez F. Normal weight obesity: a risk factor for cardiometabolic dysregulation and cardiovascular mortality. Eur Heart J. 2010 Mar;31(6):737-46.