Obesity does not always occur alongside the metabolic changes that can lead to a number of medical conditions, according to new research.
The study, conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and published in The Journal of Clinical Investigatio, discovered that some obese people do not experience the common metabolic problems associated with obesity, including insulin resistance, abnormal blood lipids (high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol), high blood pressure, and excess liver fat.
Neither did this subset of obese people develop the metabolic problems after gaining more weight.
How was the study carried out?
The researchers conducted the study by recruiting 20 obese people. They were asked to gain 15 pounds over a period of several months in order to establish the effects of the weight gain on their metabolic functions. After concluding the study, all of the participants were enrolled in a weight loss programme to ensure that they shed all of the weight they had gained.
Around 25 per cent of the study’s participants did not experience any metabolic complications, either before or after their supervised weight gain. The researchers aimed to find out why.
Explaining the results
One of the key differences between the two groups of participants (those who did experience metabolic complications, and those who didn’t) was the presence of fat in the liver, which was observed in those with metabolic abnormalities.
Furthermore, those who maintained normal metabolism in spite of obesity demonstrated more genes that regulate the accumulation and production of fat. When these participants gained more weight, the fat-regulating genes became even more active.
Future developments
Samuel Klei, the Danforth Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Science and director of Washington University’s Centre for Human Nutrition, said: “This research demonstrates that some obese people are protected from the adverse metabolic effects of moderate weight gain, whereas others are predisposed to develop these problems.
“These results suggest that the ability of body fat to expand and increase in a healthy way may protect some people from the metabolic problems associated with obesity and weight gain.
“We need more studies to try to understand why obesity causes specific diseases in some people but not in others. Could it be genetics, specific dietary intake, physical lifestyle, emotional health or even the microbes that live in the gut?”
Klein added that obesity contributes to more than 60 different unhealthy conditions, including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some types of cancer, and stroke. By understanding how obesity functions, it may be possible to reduce the incidence of obesity-related complications.

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