The prevalence of metabolically healthy obese subjects defined by BMI and dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Mar;19(3):624-30. doi: 10.1038/oby.2010.174. Epub 2010 Aug 12.


Nearly one-third of obese (OB) people are reported to be metabolically healthy based on BMI criteria. It is unknown whether this holds true when more accurate adiposity measurements are applied such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). We compared differences in the prevalence of cardiometabolic abnormalities among adiposity groups classified using BMI vs. DXA criteria. A total of 1,907 adult volunteers from Newfoundland and Labrador participated. BMI and body fat percentage (%BF; measured using DXA) were measured following a 12-h fasting period. Subjects were categorized as normal weight (NW), overweight (OW), or OB based on BMI and %BF criteria. Cardiometabolic abnormalities considered included elevated triglyceride, glucose, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) levels, decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, and hypertension. Subjects were classified as metabolically healthy (0 or 1 cardiometabolic abnormality) or abnormal (≥ 2 cardiometabolic abnormalities). We found low agreement in the prevalence of cardiometabolic abnormalities between BMI and %BF classifications (κ = 0.373, P < 0.001). Among NW and OW subjects, the prevalence of metabolically healthy individuals was similar between BMI and %BF (77.6 vs. 75.7% and 58.8 vs. 62.5%, respectively) however, there was a pronounced difference among OB subjects (34.0 vs. 47.7%, P < 0.05). Similar trends were evident using three additional definitions to characterize metabolically healthy individuals. Our findings indicate that approximately one-half of OB people are metabolically healthy when classified using %BF criteria which is significantly higher than previously reported using BMI. Caution should therefore be taken when making inferences about the metabolic health of an OB population depending on the method used to measure adiposity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / methods*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Fasting
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases / complications*
  • Metabolic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Metabolic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Newfoundland and Labrador / epidemiology
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Reference Values
  • Young Adult