Type 2 diabetes study busts ‘fit and fat’


It was once believed that even if an individual was obese, as long as they were physically active and metabolically healthy, i.e. their cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure were within recommended limits, they could be considered “fit and fat”.

A recent Australian study has debunked this myth and come full circle as once again maintaining a healthy weight has proven to be the best preventative measure at reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that even if an obese individual incorporated exercise into their daily regime, they were still 5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than a person with a normal weight, even if they were a couch potato.

The University of Sydney’s Prevention Research Collaboration conducted the study. For 3 years, they documented the levels of physical activity and inactivity of 29, 572 men and women who were 45+ years of age. By the end of the study, 611 individuals had developed type 2 diabetes.

Thanh-Binh Nguyen, the lead researcher, stated that being physically active while overweight is only helpful if it leads to weight loss. A healthy diet paired with fat-burning exercise is key to preventing diabetes. Previous studies have shown that a 5-10% reduction in body weight can prevent type 2 diabetes in pre-diabetic individuals.

This is not the first study to discount the “fit and fat” theory that was encouraged by a 2012 study. Researchers from the U.S. and Europe published a study in the European Heart Journal, which claimed that as long as overweight and obese individuals were metabolically fit, their risk of heart disease or cancer would be no different to anyone with a normal weight.

Based on their criteria, almost half of the 43, 000 obese people that took part in the study were considered to be fit. It wasn’t until later in 2015 that a Swedish study shed light on the fact that even if an obese person exercised regularly, they were still 30% more likely to die a premature death when compared to a sedentary person with a normal weight.

Researchers from Umea University in Sweden collected data from 1,317,713 men of different sizes, over a period of 30 years. The participant’s fitness level was evaluated by having them cycle to exhaustion.  Men whose fitness levels fell within the top fifth percentile when they were 18 were 51% less likely to suffer from a premature death.

The Swedish study found that the benefits of exercise were only effective up to a certain weight. Overweight and obese men had a higher risk of heart disease even if they exercised.

Professor Peter Nordstrom led the study and concluded that having and maintaining a low Body Mass Index (BMI) from young can reduce the risk of early death.

Your BMI determines if you fall into a healthy weight category for your height. If your BMI falls within the range of 25 -29.9, you’re considered overweight. Knowing your BMI can help you create realistic, attainable weight loss goals. And as multiple research studies have shown, staying at a healthy weight is the best line of defense you can take to prevent and manage diabetes and other metabolic diseases.