'Metabolically healthy obesity': origins and implications

Mol Aspects Med. 2013 Feb;34(1):59-70. doi: 10.1016/j.mam.2012.10.004. Epub 2012 Oct 13.


When humans eat more and exercise less, they tend to become obese and unhealthy. The molecular pathways that link obesity to serious diseases like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease have become a subject of intensive scientific investigation because the exploding prevalence of obesity worldwide represents a grave new threat to the health of hundreds of millions of people. However, obesity is not always destiny. Two important clinical populations have been valuable to understand the mechanisms behind this conundrum: individuals who exhibit metabolic dysfunction, diabetes and elevated cardiovascular disease risk despite a lean body type, and individuals who are relatively protected from these dangers despite significant obesity. Study of this second group of 'metabolically healthy obese' people in particular has been revealing because such individuals exhibit specific, identifiable, anatomic, cellular and molecular features that set them apart from the rest of us who suffer declining health with increasing weight. Here, we examine some of these features, including some mouse models that are informative of mechanism, and suggest hypotheses for further study, including the possibility that genes and pathways of the immune system might offer new diagnostic or therapeutic targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / cytology
  • Adipocytes / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / chemistry
  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / metabolism*