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An Epidemic of Obesity Myths
Myth: You Can't Be Overweight and Healthy

"Groundbreaking work on fitness and weight has been done by [epidemiologist Steven] Blair and colleagues at the Cooper Institute. They have shown that the advantages of being fit are striking and that people can be fit even if they are fat … and thus have lowered risk of disease. A remarkable finding is that heavy people who are fit have lower risk than thin people who are unfit."
-Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, 2003

"Consistently, physical inactivity was a better predictor of all-cause mortality than being overweight or obese."
-Annals of Epidemiology, 2002

"There was a steep inverse gradient between fitness and mortality in this cohort of men with documented diabetes, and this association was independent of BMI … Obese men with fitness levels greater than the lowest quartile were at no increased risk for mortality when compared with men in the reference group."
-Diabetes Care, 2004

"[A] fit man carrying 50 pounds of body fat had a death rate less than one-half that of an unfit man with only 25 pounds of body fat."
-Harvard Health Policy Review, 2003

"We've studied this from many perspectives in women and in men and we get the same answer: It's not the obesity—it's the fitness."
-Steven Blair, P.E.D., Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, 2004

"In Greek schoolchildren, primary CHD [coronary heart disease] risk factors are mainly associated with physical activity levels, independently of fitness, fatness, and/or fat intake… It is noteworthy that the present data contradict recent reports citing obesity as the single most important contributor in the pathogenesis of CHD during childhood … Confirming a previous report in Greek children, we found that the CHD risk factors studied were not substantially affected by qualitative aspects of diet."
-Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2004

"Active obese individuals actually have lower morbidity and mortality than normal weight individuals who are sedentary … the health risks of obesity are largely controlled if a person is physically active and physically fit."
-The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 2000

"Compared with normal weight, overweight and obesity did not significantly increase all-cause mortality risk. Compared with low CRF [cardiorespiratory fitness], moderate and high CRF were associated significantly with lower mortality risk."
-Obesity Research, 2002

"Obese individuals with at least moderate CRF [cardiorespiratory fitness] have lower rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or all-cause mortality than their normal-weight but unfit peers. In fact, death rates in the former group are about one half those of the latter."
-Editorial, JAMA, 2004

"Unfit, lean men had twice the risk of all-cause mortality as did fit, lean men and also had higher risk of all-cause mortality when compared with fit, obese men. The all-cause mortality rate of fit, obese men was not significantly different from that of fit, lean men … In summary, we found that obesity did not appear to increase mortality risk in fit men. For long-term health benefits we should focus on improving fitness by increasing physical activity rather than relying only on diet for weight control."
-American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999

"The report from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study presents convincing evidence that fitness is a more potent risk factor for mortality than is fatness … an effect of fitness that was statistically independent of the level of fatness was confirmed. The effect of fatness independent of fitness was less clear."
-American Journal of Epidemiology, 2002

"If the height/weight charts say you are 5 pounds too heavy, or even 50 pounds or more too heavy, it is of little or no consequence healthwise-as long as you are physically fit. On the other hand, if you are a couch potato, being thin provides absolutely no assurance of good health, and does nothing to increase your chances of living a long life."
-Steven Blair, P.E.D., Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, 1997

"This prospective follow-up study among middle-aged and elderly men and women indicates that obesity (as assessed by increased BMI) is not related to an increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality, but low-level LTPA [leisure time physical activity] and a low level of perceived physical fitness and functional capability are … In conclusion, in contrast with our initial hypothesis, obesity was not found to be an independent predictor of mortality among middle-aged and elderly men and women. However, low-level LTPA seemed to predict and a low level of perceived physical fitness and functional capability predicted an increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality among both men and women."
-International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, 2000

"An interesting finding of this study is that overweight, but fit men were at low risk of all-cause mortality."
-International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, 1998

"Most studies of BMI and other measures of obesity have not adequately accounted for physical fitness, a known modifier of weight status and a potential mediator of the effects of obesity on CAD [Coronary Artery Disease] and adverse CV outcomes … Our data support previous studies showing that functional capacity appears to be more important than BMI for all-cause and CV mortality, especially in women."
-JAMA, 2004

Fitness Vs. Fatness