The Obesity Paradox Has An Obvious Answer

Published June 9th, 2016 by USA Rx
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

In recent years, there’s been something called an “obesity paradox:” despite the clear ties between obesity and illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, obese individuals are overall less likely to die from these diseases than someone who is at a healthy weight or underweight. These statistics don’t seem like they should follow one another, but according to a recent study by the Veterans Affairs clinical office points to a remarkably simple explanation: physicians know the statistics, too.

Obvious Conditions Lead To Obvious Results

Obesity is something you can detect with just a glance, and if it takes more than that it’s probably because the individual is an outlier on the BMI scale which shows how inadequate the scale is.

Still, outliers or not, a high body fat content is more likely to lead to some serious medical conditions, and so doctors who see this extra weight around the midsection tend to prefer action to the wait-and-see approach. This means more medications prescribed at earlier points, more advice about exercise and diet, and more proactive treatments all around.

But Hidden Conditions Create Fewer Opportunities

While obesity may make certain medical conditions more likely, “more likely” still means that these conditions will happen to people who are in perfect shape.

If someone is obviously fat, it will lead a doctor to run tests and prescribe medications in order to minimize these risks, but someone who isn’t overweight still runs some risks, especially if a high metabolism is more responsible for their weight than good diet and exercise habits. However, these risks are hard to see on their own, and doctors may make assumptions based on a patient’s weight and not be as proactive as they should.

The VA study found that overweight and especially obese individuals are far more likely to be taking medications that protect against heart disease than average weight and underweight individuals, and this medication may be what’s saving their lives despite all the odds. As such, if this is the true reason behind the obesity paradox, then doctors need to start considering their in-shape patients more carefully.

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