Dr Russell Schierling, chiropractor and nutritionist at Mountain View, Missouri defines “skinny fat” as metabolically obese with normal weight. The term and its definition seem very odd at first but to make it simple, a person who is skinny fat has a perfectly normal body mass index (BMI) but is likely to suffer from the same medical complications as that of an obese person. These people outwardly have a moderate height and body texture but not enough lean body mass (muscles) with fat accumulating in certain organs. The fat is referred to as Visceral Fat which this article will discuss later.
The Journal of the American Medical Association conducted a research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the results appear startling. The statistics showed that one out of every four with a “normal” BMI still fell into the category of Metabolically obese, normal weight. These people were likely to die off at a rate twice than that of visible fat people due to the ignorance of obese related complications that developed as a result.
The statistics related to the younger age group also paints a very unfortunate picture. According to the medical journal Pediatrics, one in four children who seemed to be healthy were actually victims of metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes), had high cholesterol and sugar level in the blood.
The data raises some important concerns relating to the Obesity prevention programs which are frequently undertaken at schools. People will tend to overlook students who appear outwardly lean and healthy and will focus their programs entirely on visibly fat children. As is the case, the former group of students will develop a perpetual habit of bulge or excessive eating without realizing the consequences of it. The belief that lean people can continue having a high amount of trans fats, sugars and junk carbohydrates because these food items do not make them obese should be rejected. At some point, later in stage, there is a higher probability of medical complications developing.
Visceral Fat vs Subcutaneous Fat
The way to differentiate between these two types of fat is the way it is stored in the body. The deposition of visceral fat puts them at a higher risk of a lot of health problems.
One major misconception people have about fat is that it always gets stored under the skin. Which may not be the case for the visceral type. The fat that usually is visible on the skin and gives a bulky texture to the body is known as Subcutaneous fat. On the other hand, visceral is more of an internal fat which starts to accumulate in the organs particularly in the kidneys, intestines, stomach and liver. Since this cannot be outwardly seen, it is often ignored that makes it particularly dangerous.
Harvard Medical School highlights few severe complications because of visceral fat which includes
- Heart disease and related illnesses
- A boost in the cholesterol level
- Type 2 Diabetes due to decreased production of insulin
- Impaired cognition
So, although lean people may have a very attractive exterior outlook, they stand on a high chance of developing dangerous health related problems!
Knowing If You are Skinny Fat or Not?
As has been established earlier, the body weight of a person can not be taken as a way of determining whether someone is skinny fat or not. Interestingly, this happens to be one major reason why this condition is frequently overlooked. Medical scientists, however, have classified skinny fat as a part of a medical condition called Sarcopenic Obesity. People who are Sarcopenic Obese will have a BMI which falls under the range of 18.5 and 24 which is essentially the mean BMI of a normal weight person according to the World Health Organization’s guidelines. Despite that, these people will still be prone to medical illnesses like diabetes, heart disease which results because of obesity.
The recommended way of determining the possibility of being skinny fat is having a body composite calculation which determines the percentage of fat, protein, minerals and body water. Once the calculations are done, the obtained percentage of fat can then be compared with the normal percentage which stands between 10 to 20%. If a normal weight person finds his/her fat composite surpassing the limit, then he/she is likely to be skinny fat.
The three ways of measuring body compositions are:
- Callipers: Although the most accessible, the chances of human error present through this method is significant. Callipers pinch the fat held under the skin where organs are likely to have fat deposition and then estimates the results.
- Clinical Test: Hydrostatic weighing and dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) are the clinical tests that give a highly accurate estimation of the visceral fat. The drawbacks of these tests include the cost of conducting these tests and exposure to radiations that may have a long-term genetic effect
- BIA Device: This device uses electric currents to measure the body composition by considering weight, skeletal muscle mass, body fat mass. BIA devices can be used to measure the amount of internal fat of a certain region or the entire body if required.
Causes of Becoming Skinny Fat
The loss of muscle mass and increase in fat mass due to the lower metabolic rate that develops in later age is essentially the major contributor towards this condition.
Carbohydrates, high sugar and trans-fat containing foods though provide us with energy can lead to being skinny fat. When taken in an excessive amount, the energy that is present in these items gets stored in the form of fat.
Ageing is another factor for increasing the quantity of Visceral and Subcutaneous fat in the body. With age as physical activity slows down, muscles mass starts to convert into fat deposition.
Lastly, a lack of exercise and immobility is a big cause for this condition. Exercise demands energy which may be released through the stored fat. However, nutritionists stress on the point that exercise should be d be accompanied by a healthy diet. A person solely relying on strenuous exercise for fat-burn will find that muscle and fat mass will decrease that will only make him/her less skinny fat.
Overcoming Skinny Fat
The way of overcoming skinny fat narrows down to maintaining the body composition and converting fat into muscle mass.
Interestingly, nutritionists emphasize weight training and cardio to overcome this condition. This sort of exercise is also referred to as resistance training. It can help convert unnecessary body fat (both internal and external) into muscle mass. People who are skinny fat often lack a proper body texture, therefore, this training can be one way of proper maintenance. The focus should be on the regions where it is known that fat deposition is present.
Before jumping onto any step, it is important to be aware of the skinny fat condition. As has mostly been the case, that people who outwardly appear lean will tend to ignore the fact that they will ever face obesity-induced medical complications. Thereby one should as a priority get access to ways of knowing whether he/she is suffering from the skinny fat condition or not.