A lot of really bad information about being “skinny fat” is out there. Let’s look at what skinny fat really means, if you are at risk and what to do about it.
The Skinny On Skinny Fat
I was, quite frankly, amazed about the amount of misleading articles floating around the idea of “skinny fat.” From linking it to having a specific body type to eating the wrong foods – dubious “fitness coaches” and “health experts” use the buzzword to sell solutions.
But that is all nonsense and in truth, “skinny fat” simply means having a normal body weight, but still being predisposed to having the same illnesses as overweight people:
All the upheaval about “skinny fat” started with a 1981 study by one Dr. Neil Ruderman (PDF), who came upon the paradox that people of perfectly normal weight displayed the symptoms of illnesses usually only associated with the overweight and obese: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension etc. He then called this the “metabolically obese, normal weight” (MONW) syndrome.
Since then, a small number of other studies came to the same conclusion, but how many normal weight people really are affected is rather uncertain – the evidence is too limited. A 2007 study reckons that depending on the used criteria it could be anywhere between 5-45 percent.
But who is at risk? A 2004 Canadian study among young women found that MONW sufferers had a “higher percent body fat, lower fat-free mass, lower physical activity energy expenditure and lower peak oxygen uptake than non-MONW women .” In other words: not much muscle compared to their body fat and fitness was alien to them.
As I said in the video, to truly find out if you are at risk you have to visit your doctor and get your blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, fasting blood sugar and triglycerides checked. If those turn out normal, you simply are skinny, nothing else. If not, you have to discuss with your doctor what your best course of action is, as a special diet may be necessary.
He may probably also encourage you to do some exercise, as it helps MONW individuals. But then again exercise generally is a good idea, no matter if you are fat, skinny fat or just skinny. People of normal weight and into fitness usually have the lowest risk of developing above illnesses.
Picture courtesy of Marcin Grabski.