“Skinny Fat”, or normal-weight obesity, refers to individuals that do not appear to be visually overweight, however, these individuals have a high percentage of body fat that is often visceral fat, which is fat that surrounds the vital organs. The body composition, or the ratio of fat to lean body mass, for these individuals is high in fatty tissue in comparison to lean tissue, but they still fall within the normal limits of the body mass index, also known as “BMI”. Unfortunately, as is the case with other forms of obesity, “skinny fat” is a growing problem in the United States.
So why should we be concerned with “skinny fat” individuals when they look good? Because the science shows that body composition, the ratio of fat to lean body mass, is more important than simple body weight when analyzing the health of individuals. And unfortunately due to our preconceptions of these individuals, those suffering from normal-weight obesity are being being misclassified as healthy when they could actually be at high risk for chronic diseases and are not being treated or attended to properly.
More and more research is showing a correlation between between body fat and risk of chronic disease and mortality. Until recently, the focus of the research has been geared towards how increased body weight can lead to a greater risk of disease with little emphasis on the health risks associated with being underweight and unfit. However, as we are finding out, being “skinny” does not mean being “healthy and fit.”
For example, a recent study analyzed the relationship between body fat percentage and cardiorespiratory fitness (or CRF), which is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease and premature death. The findings of the study showed that body fat percentage was inversely related to cardiorespiratory fitness. In other words, participants in the study with larger amounts of body fat were found to be less fit, independent of their body weight or stature.
In another recent study, scientists explored the relationship between cancer mortality and various obesity measures as well as fitness, which was quantified in the study by the duration of maximal treadmill exercise. The findings showed that participants that were classified as unfit and underweight were at a higher risk of mortality than those classified as obese. Thus, in addition to managing weight, individuals should emphasize physical activity in their daily lives as it is proven to be a critical part in disease prevention.
Dr. Keith Bachman, a weight-management specialist with Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute, emphasizes, “Good health is more than a BMI or a number on a scale. We know that people who choose a healthy lifestyle enjoy better health.” Dr. Bachman suggests a balanced diet, physical activity, and stress management as healthy lifestyle practices.
In an effort to be a more informed and healthier society, let’s remove “skinny” from our vocabulary and focus our attention on being healthy, strong and fit. And if you’re an individual that is not consuming healthy foods and not undertaking regular physical activity but appears to be of normal weight, you may be “skinny-fat” and should consult your doctor about making lifestyle changes. To address unhealthy nutrition practices, take a look at incorporating Isagenix products into your diet.