Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Paradox of Healthy Obesity

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Researchers have defined key characteristics that enable some obese individuals to remain free from type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

“It has been known for some time that some obese individuals seem to stay metabolically healthy,” said A/Prof Jerry Greenfield of Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. “However, there has been no consensus about how to define ‘metabolically healthy’ obesity – so it has not been easy to understand what underpins these individuals’ apparent protection from disease.”

Greenfield’s research, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (, examined “whether or not obese individuals also have… a resistance to the hormone insulin, which regulates the level of sugar in the blood after a meal. We consider that obese individuals who are not insulin-resistant, but instead remain sensitive to insulin, can be thought of as being metabolically healthy.”

In people with insulin resistance, the body’s tissues become progressively less responsive to insulin. Muscle cells become sluggish at removing glucose from the bloodstream, and liver cells are less able to halt their release of glucose into the blood. As a result, the insulin-production machinery is overworked and ultimately becomes exhausted, leading to type 2 diabetes.


The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.