The metabolically healthy but obese phenotype is associated with lower plasma levels of persistent organic pollutants as compared to the metabolically abnormal obese phenotype

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Jun;99(6):E1061-6. doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-3935. Epub 2014 Feb 25.


Context: Although obesity is strongly linked to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, a subset of obese individuals termed metabolically healthy but obese (MHO) appears relatively protected from the development of cardiometabolic complications. The origins of this metabolically healthy phenotype remain unclear. Recently, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have emerged as potential endocrine disruptors.

Objective: The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that the MHO phenotype presents lower circulating levels of POPs as compared to the metabolically abnormal obese (MAO) phenotype.

Design, setting, and patients: We conducted a cross-sectional study of 76 nondiabetic obese (body mass index ≥30 kg/m(2)) postmenopausal women.

Main outcome measures: Plasma concentrations of 21 POPs as well as cardiometabolic risk factors were analyzed.

Results: For similar age, body mass index, and fat mass index, MHO women (n = 40) showed higher insulin sensitivity levels and a more favorable cardiometabolic profile than MAO women (n = 36), as evidenced by a 2-fold increase in glucose disposal rates measured by the hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp (P = .001). Among 18 detectable pollutants measured, MAO women had higher plasma concentrations of 12 POPs (fold increase, 1.4-2.9; P < .001-.036). Logistic regression analyses showed that the prevalence of the MAO phenotype was significantly associated with higher levels of total dioxin- and non-dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (odds ratio, 4.7; 95% confidence interval, 1.8-12.5; P = .002), as well as trans-nonachlor (odds ratio, 6.1; 95% CI, 2.2-16.4; P < .001).

Conclusion: Our study demonstrates that the metabolically healthy and abnormal phenotypes have distinct plasma POP profiles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / blood
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Organic Chemicals / blood*
  • Overweight / blood
  • Overweight / complications
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Phenotype
  • Risk Factors


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Organic Chemicals