In a country where more than 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese, it makes sense that many of us associate being thin with being healthy. For one, people who are overweight and obese have an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol. And on top of that, all these successful people we see online and on TV look pretty fit to us. But as it turns out, just because you're of a "normal" weight doesn't mean you're in the clear when it comes to your overall health.
Canadian researchers recently found that people who have the most body fat—at any body mass index (BMI)—have the highest rates of death. The investigators analyzed data from 54,420 middle-aged men and women. They found that when BMI was controlled across the group, women and men who had the highest body fat percentages had the highest death rate. Translation: Someone who is underweight has the same risk of death as someone who is obese if they have the same percentage of body fat.
Scientists think this unlikely discovery is because we're using BMI (which doesn't distinguish between fat and lean muscle mass) to determine fatness when we should be looking at the amount and type of fat itself. In fact, a 2013 study showed that those who had more belly fat (also called visceral fat), rather than thigh or rear fat, had worse survival rates. This is because belly fat is more harmful than other fats since it's embedded in your muscles and organs (instead of sitting just under the skin).
So, what does this all mean? Well, the study isn't sending the message that weight doesn't matter; it's saying that even if you look thin or of a normal weight, it's what's inside that counts and what might put you at risk for the same deadly diseases that overweight people fall victim to. That's right. Skinny fat is a thing—and according to these results, it puts you in the same category as those who are obese. Make sure you're regularly working up a sweat to stay healthy, and be sure to eat nutrient-dense superfoods that fuel your body and help prevent and cure diseases!