Definitions of Metabolic Health and Risk of Future Type 2 Diabetes in BMI Categories: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-analysis

Diabetes Care. 2015 Nov;38(11):2177-87. doi: 10.2337/dc15-1218.


Objective: Various definitions of metabolic health have been proposed to explain differences in the risk of type 2 diabetes within BMI categories. The goal of this study was to assess their predictive relevance.

Research design and methods: We performed systematic searches of MEDLINE records for prospective cohort studies of type 2 diabetes risk in categories of BMI and metabolic health. In a two-stage meta-analysis, relative risks (RRs) specific to each BMI category were derived by network meta-analysis and the resulting RRs of each study were pooled using random-effects models. Hierarchical summary receiver operating characteristic curves were used to assess predictive performance.

Results: In a meta-analysis of 140,845 participants and 5,963 incident cases of type 2 diabetes from 14 cohort studies, classification as metabolically unhealthy was associated with higher RR of diabetes in all BMI categories (lean RR compared with healthy individuals 4.0 [95% CI 3.0-5.1], overweight 3.4 [2.8-4.3], and obese 2.5 [2.1-3.0]). Metabolically healthy obese individuals had a high absolute risk of type 2 diabetes (10-year cumulative incidence 3.1% [95% CI 2.6-3.5]). Current binary definitions of metabolic health had high specificity (pooled estimate 0.88 [95% CI 0.84-0.91]) but low sensitivity (0.40 [0.31-0.49]) in lean individuals and satisfactory sensitivity (0.81 [0.76-0.86]) but low specificity (0.42 [0.35-0.49]) in obese individuals. However, positive (<3.3 in all BMI categories) and negative (>0.4) likelihood ratios were consistent with insignificant to small improvements in prediction.

Conclusions: Although individuals classified as metabolically unhealthy have a higher RR of type 2 diabetes compared with individuals classified as healthy in all BMI categories, current binary definitions of metabolic health have limited relevance to the prediction of future type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Prognosis
  • Risk