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June 6, 2014
Skinny Fat - Being Thin and Being Healthy are not the Same

Being skinny is not equal to being healthy. If you think of the word “health” some other words may also come to mind:  prosperous, sound, well, free of disease, etc. But being skinny does not necessarily have anything to do with those previous words. If you are skinny, you can still be quite unhealthy. A thin individual who has a high body fat percentage is at a much higher risk for chronic disease than someone with a healthy body fat percentage. Obesity is largely damaging to health because of the amount of visceral fat on an individual. This fat that is stored in the gut and around the organs is highly related to obesity related diseases, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. However, a skinny person can be obese as well.

In the health world, there are a number of ways we can assess someone’s health risks. One method is using the BMI, or body mass index. The BMI is a relationship between height and weight. A BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered healthy. Over a 30 is considered obese. While the BMI is a great tool to use for the general public, it does not take body composition into account. Given this fact, we also use body fat percentages to assess health risks. The body composition tests estimates how much of your body weight is fat and how much is fat-free-mass. There are many tools used to estimate body fat. In 20/20 LifeStyles we use a DEXA machine. The DEXA scanner uses X-Rays to measure bone density and is also the standard for body fat estimates. For a man, a healthy body fat percentage can range between 8 and 20%, with obesity beginning at 25%. For women, the healthy range is between 20 and 33%, with obesity beginning at 38%.

To be considered skinny-fat, one would have to have a normal to low BMI and have a body fat percentage that is at or above the obese level. This is not rare! Some women who look skinny have a healthy BMI of 22 or 23, and they have a body fat percentage of 40 or more. It is no different with the men. Some thin men have a healthy BMI but have body fat percentages that exceed 25%. Also, along with the excess body fat, they tend to have high triglycerides, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.  This can result from two causes: increased visceral fat, and a lack of exercise.

A person’s body weight will largely come down to how much they eat. An individual’s physiological health will come down to how much they move and exercise. Someone who controls their health through diet alone is at much higher risk for being “skinny fat” and therefore higher risk for disease. The way to fix this is to exercise! Lift weights. Run. Move heavy objects. Work those muscles to build those muscles. Exercising and increasing muscle mass will help to burn the excess fat and create a physiology that is efficient at burning calories instead of storing them. The less muscle mass you have, the more likely that the calories you eat will be stored in fat cells (especially in the gut.) Having more muscle mass allows for larger energy reserves outside your fat mass. Also, fats tend to create proteins called inflammatory cytokines while muscles produce anti-inflammatory myokines. A balance of these inflammatory and anti-inflammatory proteins is necessary for optimal health. Being skinny fat is not in balance. It is still obese, and the dangers of obesity are still present.

So, manage your weight, exercise like a champ, and control your eating. Go for toned, not skinny. 

Written by Clark Masterson

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