Metabolic and body composition factors in subgroups of obesity: what do we know?

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jun;89(6):2569-75. doi: 10.1210/jc.2004-0165.


Obesity is thought to be a heterogeneous disorder with several possible etiologies; therefore, by examining subtypes of obesity we attempt to understand obesity's heterogeneous nature. The purpose of this review was to investigate the roles of metabolic, body composition, and cardiovascular disease risk in subtypes of obesity. We briefly consider two subtypes of obesity that have been identified in the literature. One subset of individuals, termed the metabolically healthy, but obese (MHO), despite having large amounts of fat mass compared with at risk obese individuals shows a normal metabolic profile, but remarkably normal to high levels of insulin sensitivity. Preliminary evidence suggests that this could be due at least in part to lower visceral fat levels and earlier onset of obesity. A second subset, termed the metabolically obese, but normal weight (MONW), present with normal body mass index, but have significant risk factors for diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease, which could be due to higher fat mass and plasma triglycerides as well as higher visceral fat and liver content. We also briefly consider the potential role of adipose and gastrointestinal hormonal profiles in MHO and MONW individuals, which could lead to a better understanding of potential factors that may regulate their body composition. This information will eventually be invaluable in helping us understand factors that predispose to or protect obese individuals from metabolic and cardiovascular disease. Collectively, a greater understanding of the MHO and MONW individual has important implications for therapeutic decision making, the characterization of subjects in research protocols, and medical education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / physiopathology*