We all know it’s risky for your health to be overweight. Does that mean you’re in the clear for dangerous medical problems if you’re thin? Not so, say experts.
The Skinny on Fat
Dr. Jimmy Bell, a professor of molecular imaging at Imperial College in London, says, “being thin doesn’t automatically mean you’re not fat.”
Doctors say internal fat that surrounds vital organs – such as the heart, liver and pancreas – may be just as risky to your health as visible body fat.
Experts aren’t quite sure why internal fat happens without the presence of external fat. They believe people accumulate fat around the stomach area first, but sometimes the body may store it in other places. The amount of internal fat you have also seems to increase with age.
How Common Is It?
Being “skinny fat” is more common than you’d think. Experts looked at people whose body mass indexes (BMIs) fell into the healthy range. They found that 45% of women with a normal BMI had excessive levels of internal fat, and 60% of men with a healthy BMI did.
Researchers even coined another term for being “skinny fat.” They refer to these people as “TOFIs,” or people who have a “thin outside, fat inside.” There’s a chance that any thin person can be a “TOFI.” In fact, experts found that some professional models were “TOFIs.”
Why You Should Be Concerned
If you maintain your slim figure through diet but not exercise, you may be “skinny fat.” “Skinny fat” people often eat too many sugary and fatty foods, but not enough calories to pack on extra pounds.
Regular physical activity may be the missing piece of the puzzle that can keep you from accumulating too much internal fat. It is better for your health to be overweight and fit instead of healthy weight and inactive. Dr. Steven Blair, an obesity expert at University of South Carolina, says, “normal-weight persons who are sedentary and unfit are at much higher risk for mortality than obese persons who are active and fit.”
Being “skinny fat” may be even more dangerous than being overweight for another reason, too. When you have extra belly fat, doctors check you more often for conditions like heart disease and diabetes, but thin people may be mistakenly viewed as healthy and not get extra screening tests and checkups.
The Bottom Line
Although no tests exist yet to diagnose “skinny fat,” your doctor can give you detailed information about your personal health. Discuss any concerns about your risk for “skinny fat” with your doctor, and see him or her as often as directed for check-ups.
Keep in mind that following a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise will always be the cornerstones of good health. These behaviors can help keep your body healthy on the inside – and out.