Is Being Fat Unhealthy?

By Ayanna DeVance. Reviewed by Lauren Ranley, MS, RD, LDN

Fat prejudice or weight stigma has grown to be a public health issue. Many of us have witnessed or experienced rudeness from strangers, family, friends, or medical professionals for being overweight or obese. Even though being “overweight” is not an accurate or single indicator of health, individuals in larger bodies tend to suffer from mental health issues and low self-esteem related to the stigma attached to body weight.

What is obesity?

Obesity is a range between 25-29.9 on the BMI scale. Describing obesity can be challenging because anyone can quickly enter their height and weight into an online calculator to determine their BMI. However, BMI does not distinguish between body fat and lean tissue and gives no details on where the body fat is located. Compared to total body fat, abdominal fat has a much more significant adverse effect on health. Most of our body fat is subcutaneous (found under the skin). Most crucially, BMI ignores lifestyle variables like nutrition and exercise, which have a much more significant impact on health than any measurement of body weight or fat.

The commonly promoted message states that obesity can lead to cardiometabolic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, but it would be oversimplifying to blame these illnesses solely on excess body fat. Fundamentally, fat serves as a reservoir for storing energy. Still, closer examination reveals that it also plays a crucial role in activities as diverse as the immunological response, insulin sensitivity control, and body temperature preservation.

Many people do not realize that as people age, weight changes, and the body’s tissue composition and functionality alter.

What is considered a “healthy weight?”

Even though studies [1] have shown that weight is not always a reliable indicator of health, people considered “overweight” based on outward appearance have long faced stigma in the US. This has become a massive problem for both men and women. To combat the problem, ways to contribute to the solution include: Paying attention to and taking advice from fat activists, recognizing the existence of thin privilege, and realizing that coming to terms with one’s body at any size takes time.

Most people believe that body fat is solely to blame for many, if not all, of a person’s health issues. But is this an accurate judgment? The risks of obesity are similar to those brought on by a bad diet and insufficient exercise [2]. Therefore, you must consider if the health issues connected to obesity are caused by the body fat or the lifestyle that goes along with it. The answer to this question is simple. Encourage obese people to improve their physical activity, alter their diets, and track the effects. Obesity-related health markers go better with little to no weight loss.

The health risks linked with dieting are strikingly comparable to the health risks associated with obesity [2]. So, are obesity problems caused by bodily fat or by our frantic efforts to lose it? This is a significant question that should be asked because the primary goal of “obesity treatment,” which places an inordinate emphasis on weight loss, may have unintended consequences.

One of our most ingrained assumptions is that a person’s body weight or percentage of body fat significantly predicts their health, level of fitness, or likelihood of living a long time. This is not meant to imply that obesity is unharmful or that body weight has no bearing on one’s health. Only when all pertinent information is analyzed does it become apparent that both the health risks of obesity and the purported benefits of weight loss have been significantly exaggerated.

In other words, many obese persons are in good health and exhibit what is known as a healthy obesity characteristic. People of all shapes and sizes can increase their fitness quickly, and the health advantages of increased fitness surpass those of weight loss. Furthermore, getting a “fat” person fit is easier than getting a “fat” person slim.

Not everyone can fall on the thin end of the BMI scale. All shapes and sizes can be fit and healthy. And we must accept that everyone can travel on the paths to a fitter, healthier physique.


[1] Wildman RP, Muntner P, Reynolds K, et al. The Obese Without Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering and the Normal Weight With Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering: Prevalence and Correlates of 2 Phenotypes Among the US Population (NHANES 1999-2004). Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(15):1617–1624. doi:10.1001/archinte.168.15.1617

[2] Siahpush, M., Tibbits, M., Shaikh, R.A. et al. Dieting Increases the Likelihood of Subsequent Obesity and BMI Gain: Results from a Prospective Study of an Australian National Sample. Int.J. Behav. Med. 22, 662–671 (2015).