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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Fat definitely doesn't mean fit

This. This annoys me. The most shared story on the BBC News website right now is that fat people can be fit. Well that's just excellent. Cue hoards of overweight heart-attacks-in-waiting crying "See! We told you!" through bites of doughnuts and KFC. Fat people will see fit and read healthy, and this is why...

The study basically shows that out of 18,500 obese people, only half were metabolically unhealthy, meaning they don't suffer from diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. I've never suffered from any of these and, until last year, I was mega un-fit. Just because you don't have those three things wrong with you does not mean you can call yourself fit!

Having done a little science and critical thinking, oh, a decade ago, let's see if I can come up with some variables which have not been considered here.
  1. Fitness defined - What is fit? The article does not tell us and we are left to assume fitness is measured by whether you suffer from one (or more) of three health issues.
  2. Level of obesity - the article does not explain whether these people are just a bit overweight or morbidly obese. It also doesn't explain how obesity has been defined so if, for example, they took the stats of a wrestler and calculated his BMI, he'd be obese. But not fat.
  3. Length of obesity - diseases like those listed in the article can take years to develop. If a participant had only been obese for six months they are obviously less likely to suffer than those who have been fat for three decades.
  4. Fitness in 'non obese' participants - There is no mention of results in the other two-thirds of participants in the study and so we have nothing to compare these results to.
You may think this makes the article pointless and, scientifically, I suppose it does. The problem I have is the impact it will have. There is so little explanation that what a lot of people will read is "I can continue to be fat and not exercise, I'm still fit and healthy as long as I don't get a life threatening disease." and that is wrong. We should be encouraging people to go out and exercise and to eat healthily not just to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure but also to help prolong your joints and bones, to help regulate your hormones and metabolism and to lift your mood.

Being fat is not healthy and very few fat people could ever be considered fit. Luckily even the picture inspires me to go home and pump some iron so the article isn't a complete washout.

Read this fantastic post from Lipstick, Lettuce and Lycra on the same topic...


  1. At least the dude in the photo is making a effort.

    Fat is never healthy. Okay, so someone might not have heart issues or diabetes but what about in 5, 10, 20 years time?

    I was at the upper end of obese and never had any of those problems. But I know for a fact that I wasn't fit. I'm also pretty sure that now I am at the lower end of overweight, I'm going to live at least 10 years longer.

    This has made me angry so I'm going to go and rant about it on Feeling Stylish.

    1. I'm glad someone agrees with me! I was starting to think I was on my own on this one! Post a link to your rant when it's up :)

  2. "Being fat is not healthy and very few fat people could ever be considered fit."

    ...except the entire point of the article you just linked to is that a high proportion of people who, based on weight, could be assumed to be unfit are actually not. I'm not sure what your definition of fit is--running at a certain speed? being able to lift a certain weight?--but all this post has done is convince me that your reading comprehension skills can't be considered fit either.

    1. Thanks for your comment Megan. I think perhaps you didn't understand my post at all.

      What worries me is that, whilst half of the obese, middle class Caucasians in the study were not classed as metabolically unhealthy, half were. Without the benefit of a world class university science department to fully assess an individual's weight there is a danger that some obese people will read the article and think there is no need for them to lose weight for health reasons, because you can be fat and fit.

      It is undeniable that being overweight increases your risk of many diseases and I think that an article which trivialises weight as a health factor is both dangerous and irresponsible.

      The BBC article is, in my opinion, badly written and more suited to the contraditory crap we're used to seeing in the Daily Mail.