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Skinny = Healthy?

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We’ve all heard the universal truth that if you’re overweight you must be unhealthy and if you’re skinny you must be healthy, right?  The answer would be no.  Recent studies (Medical Research Council, UK) involving over 75,00 people found that skinny people with a unique genetic make-up were at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease despite having lower body fat.  Extra weight, especially in the form of fat, can lead to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and the list goes on and on.

Here are some scary statistics, 68 % of the American population is overweight, and that most have signs of pre-diabetes that lead to Type 2 diabetes.  The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported that nearly 1 in 4 skinny people have pre-diabetes and are “metabolically obese.”

I’ve taught in a public high school for the last 16 years and reading statistics like this concern me, a study of teenagers found that 37 percent of the skinny kids had one or more signs of pre-diabetes such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol.  What that means is that 40% or 4 out of 10 normal-weight kids are pre-diabetic

Right now it’s believed that 1/3 of kids are overweight or obese in America, if that’s true that means that only about 20 percent of children in America are healthy. In other words, 8 out of 10 children in America are overweight or have pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.

So, what causes skinny people, including kids to be so unhealthy?  scientists suggests, individuals should focus on not just the amount of fat, but the type of fat that you have.  As your body grows fat deposits develop just under the skin.  These types of fat don’t contribute as much to the development of diabetes or heart problems.  However, visceral fat, which is fat that accumulates around organs and in deeper tissues, within muscle and embedded in organs like the liver, for example, can put you at greater risk of these diseases.  Skinny or lean individuals are no exception, they might not have visible fat under the skin, but they might have a significant amount of visceral fat inside their body.

What determines where your fat goes?  Here’s where it gets tricky – fat storage is determined by two factors.   First, it completely out of our control because it’s largely genetic.  If you haven’t noticed, everyone’s body is different and so is the way their body functions.  Some individuals, based on their genetics are more likely to store fat around organs or in muscle tissue.  This explains why some people can eat what they want and rarely gain weight while others eat normally and gain weight.

The second factor is gender.  Women tend to store fat under the skin, while men are more likely to deposit it in muscle tissue.

Studies have also shown that skinny people who contain mostly visceral fat are just as likely to have high cholesterol and triglyceride levels and insulin resistance.  Even those with low body fat can have higher levels of blood cholesterol and were more likely to show some resistance to processing insulin, one of the first signs of diabetes.  Many of these individuals showed normal body mass index or BMI readings.  BMI measures assesses your weight but doesn’t consider your percentage of body fat.

Its important that individuals understand the relationship between weight, body fat and disease.  This is one reason why I use Body Composition as a determining factor in my health, instead of BMI.  Body Composition, measures your weight and body fat percentage.  (CLICK HERE to read more about Body Composition)  Many people who look lean may assume they are healthy and they may very well be, but their are those individuals that might be hiding behind their lean physic and hiding unseen problems.

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