Metabolically Healthy Obesity Is a Misnomer: Components of the Metabolic Syndrome Linearly Increase with BMI as a Function of Age and Gender

Biology (Basel). 2023 May 15;12(5):719. doi: 10.3390/biology12050719.


Objectives: We aimed to examine the relationships between body mass index (BMI) and metabolic syndrome (MS) components as a function of age and gender across weight categories.

Methods: This cross-sectional study included 19,328 subjects who participated in a health-screening program. We analyzed 14,093 apparently healthy subjects with a BMI ≥ 18.5 kg/m2 (ranging from 18.5 to 46 kg/m2).

Results: At a BMI of 18.5 kg/m2, 16% of subjects had one or more MS components (MS ≥ 1). The number of MS components increased linearly with BMI. The most prevalent components for MS1-4 were hypertension (in men) and increased waist circumference (in women). Among 6391 non-obese subjects with MS = 0, there was a linear increase in blood pressure, glucose, and triglycerides, as well as a decline in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, as BMI increased. In 2087 subjects with a BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2, a true normometabolic state (MS = 0) was observed in only 7.5%, declining to less than 1% at a BMI ≥ 36 kg/m2 (ATP criteria). Women were metabolically protected relative to men between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

Conclusions: (A) MS components increase linearly with BMI from the lowest normal BMI and continue to increase with age and BMI; (B) metabolically healthy obesity is rare in subjects with a high BMI and declines with age; (C) hypertension is the most common component in men; and (D) in women, MS components are seen at older ages than in men for the same BMI. Metabolic health declines with age and BMI in nearly all subjects with obesity.

Keywords: hypertension; metabolic syndrome; metabolically healthy obesity; normometabolic obesity; obesity.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.