Big May Be Beautiful, But ‘Fat But Fit’ is a Myth

At a time when “plus-size” models grace the pages of Sports Illustrated in all their curvy glory, runways are no longer reserved solely for the waif type and a new body positive social media campaign goes viral on the regular, it’s safe to say we’re making major strides.

We’ve finally begun to embrace and celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes – and that’s a great thing. The idea is that “healthy” can look different ways other than fit and lean; you can be overweight, yet healthy. “Big is beautiful,” has become both a way of life and a hashtag.

Of course, any progressive shift isn’t without its backlash, and critics claim that – if taken too far – the body positivity movement may actually promote an unhealthy lifestyle. Now, they have new ammunition to support their claim.

A new study published in the European Heart Journal has revealed that being “fit but fat” is still very dangerous. Debunking the myth that you can be “fat” yet healthy if things like your blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol levels are normal, it found that carrying extra weight can increase risk of coronary heart disease by up to 28 per cent – even if your other results are normal.

The study – the largest of its kind to date – involved over half a million Europeans. It examined health data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) on 520,000 people from 10 countries. In a follow-up 12 years later, a total of 7,637 subjects experienced a serious incident linked to heart disease, including a heart attack or death.

When compared with the other 10,000 people in the study, the researchers analyzed the link between a heart disease incident, weight and general health. They found that overweight healthy people had a 26 per cent increased risk of developing heart diseased compared to those of a normal body weight. This risk climbed to 28 per cent for healthy obese people with a BMI over 30.

The research contradicts other studies that claim that overweight people can be healthy. Despite being healthy at one point in their younger years, the researchers said that being overweight could eventually lead to health problems down the road. Not surprisingly, they found that being unhealthy – based on the three key markers of high blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol – was a key risk in developing heart disease later on, regardless of what their BMI was. This group was at more than double the risk of developing heart disease.

The authors urge that the messaging around people being “fat but fit” should be changed. This echoes the sentiment of many who claim that this messaging only encourages unhealthy living and justifies being out of shape.

Admittedly, at a time when smart phone screens can replace outdoor activity, everything is available on demand with a few quick clicks (you can have a fridge full of groceries without the arm work of grocery shopping) and our freelance economy makes it simple to work from home (eliminating the walk to work), being active takes a lot of effort.

But it’s worth it.

As easy as it is to be inactive, it’s easier than ever to get fit, thanks to things like fitness apps, free yoga and fitness classes throughput cities (Toronto has many) and countless workout trends that cater to all likes and fitness levels.

While big may still be beautiful, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy.