Almost one in 10 middle-aged men and more than a quarter of middle-aged women in the UK are “fit but fat”, researchers have said, as they called for more to be done to help people reduce their weight.
Academics said that there are large regional differences over levels of “metabolically healthy obesity”, which could be down to different diets or other lifestyle factors as well as ethnic and genetic differences.
People who are “fit but fat” are considered to be obese by their body mass index (BMI) score but have none of the complications associated with obesity including abnormal blood sugar levels; high cholesterol; high blood pressures; type 2 diabetes or other signs of heart disease.
The UK has similar levels seen in Sweden, Norway and Germany, experts said.
The highest proportion of metabolically healthy obesity is observed in France and other Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Israel, experts told the the Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
One study shows that 8% of men and 27% of women in the UK aged between 40 and 50 are living with “metabolically healthy obesity”.
Asked how many people in the UK are affected, Professor Matthias Bluher, of the University of Leipzig and Helmholtz Centre Munich in Germany, said: “The (UK) is very similar to situation Sweden, Norway and Germany.
“There are populations in Micronesia or Asian populations where it is down to 2-5% only.
“Some populations may be, despite large amounts of adipose tissue, better protected against comorbidities and Caucasian populations belong to those.”
Prof Bluher said that healthy obesity is seen in a number of premenopausal women.
It comes as Prof Bluher called for better weight management programmes for people who fit the profile.
He pointed to previous work which suggests people who are “healthy obese” have a higher risk of coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and heart failure compared to their in a normal weight range.
“There will always be people living with obesity who seem to be protected against obesity-related cardiometabolic diseases,” he told the conference.
“The concept that metabolically healthy obesity affected people may not benefit from weight loss strategies has been challenged by recent data.
“A timely and personalised treatment of obesity should also be recommended to people living with healthier obesity.”