Causes, Characteristics, and Consequences of Metabolically Unhealthy Normal Weight in Humans

Cell Metab. 2017 Aug 1;26(2):292-300. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.07.008.


A BMI in the normal range associates with a decreased risk of cardiometabolic disease and all-cause mortality. However, not all subjects in this BMI range have this low risk. Compared to people who are of normal weight and metabolically healthy, subjects who are of normal weight but metabolically unhealthy (∼20% of the normal weight adult population) have a greater than 3-fold higher risk of all-cause mortality and/or cardiovascular events. Here we address to what extent major risk phenotypes determine metabolic health in lean compared to overweight and obese people and provide support for the existence of a lipodystrophy-like phenotype in the general population. Furthermore, we highlight the molecular mechanisms that induce this phenotype. Finally, we propose strategies as to how this knowledge could be implemented in the prevention and treatment of cardiometabolic diseases in different stages of adiposity in routine clinical practice.

Keywords: cardiometabolic diseases; insulin resistance; insulin secretion; leg fat mass; lipodystrophy-like phenotype; metabolic syndrome; metabolically healthy obesity; metabolically unhealthy normal weight; nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; visceral obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases* / metabolism
  • Heart Diseases* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolic Diseases* / metabolism
  • Metabolic Diseases* / pathology
  • Risk Factors