Obesity Isn't A Disease…It's Only A Symptom

I read an interesting study the other day.

In this study, the researchers argued that when it comes to Metabolic Syndrome (hypertension, dyslipidaemia, glucose intolerance, hyperinsulinemia, central adiposity {big belly}, high blood sugar) obesity may actually be a good thing.

Here’s why.

  • Metabolic Syndrome is a result of our Standard American Diet
  • The S.A.D. combination of too many calories and the over-consumption of sugar + fat-centric meals causes…
  • An increase in the secretion of insulin. When this happens on a regular basis, we end up with…
  • hyperinsulinemia, which…
  • Causes the expression of the lipogenic transcription factor SREBP-1c and its target enzymes and so on and so on and so on until we end up with Metabolic Syndrome and all of the wonderful ailments I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it?

And the first thing that your doctor is going to tell you if she suspects you have Metabolic Syndrome is to lose weight.

As if obesity is the cause of Metabolic Syndrome….But, it ain’t.

  • We know that our bodies respond to our Standard American Diet by increasing the amount of circulating insulin.
  • This leads to an increase in body-fat.

Common sense tells us that this is bad.

These researchers disagree….

  • They propose that this new body-fat delays, rather than causes, the metabolic syndrome induced by chronic caloric surplus.
  • They argue that subcutaneous fat in general exerts a positive effect on insulin sensitivity. Subcutaneous fat is the body-fat that exists between your muscles and your skin – we’re not talking that solid “beer belly” kind of fat.
  • This “healthy” type of adipose tissue is genetically determined and has a strong sexually dimorphic component as well. Females, at any given body mass index, are protected against insulin resistance more than males.

And if we prevent insulin resistance…we prevent Metabolic Syndrome.

To test this hypothesis further, the researchers bred obesity resistance mice with with db/db mice, which normally become obese and develop severe metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (T2DM) by the age of 8–10 weeks.

  • They ended up with some mice who stayed lean despite their voracious appetites.

Unfortunately, these mice developed Metabolic Syndrome in 4 weeks instead of the typical 8-10 weeks.

The researchers concluded that body-fat is a normal response designed to permit stockpiling of fuels while simultaneously protecting our lipid-intolerant organs.

  • Metabolic syndrome appears only after the storage capacity of the adipocyte compartment has reached a maximum, at which point a gradual accumulation of ectopic fatty acids begins.

NOTE – Ectopic means “not where it’s supposed to be”. It accumulates in the abdominal region (beer belly), the liver, muscle tissue including the heart, the pancreas, and perhaps in lipid-rich deposits in the arteries.

Obesity should therefore not be regarded as a pathology or disease, but rather as the normal, physiologic response to sustained caloric surplus without which the advent of metabolic syndrome is accelerated.


  • Obesity isn’t a disease
  • It’s a symptom of another disease – Metabolic Syndrome
  • It’s better to have squishy, subcutaneous fat than the big, hard beer belly kind of fat

My Suggestion

Stop thinking of obesity as a health issue unto itself. If obesity is a result of something else, you need to know what that cause is and then take action to reverse the problem.

You can start by dumping the Standard American Diet and replace it with a Paleo Diet for the 21st Century


  1. Wow. Thanks for the link to the full text. I thought Peter@Hyperlipid was joking about the biblical reference! He has a lot to say to ding the study, but likes their conclusion (I think he thinks it’s a case of “even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes”). But like you, I certainly appreciate the new frame. Could be just me, but I think it also adds an interesting context to gross morbid obesity (e.g., 100s of excess lbs) as well.

  2. I am a Registered Nurse. I graduated in 1976. In those days, increase in weight was considered a symptom of type 2….now it’s considered the cause. Love the way they keep “discovering” what they already knew!

  3. […] decreasing fasting glucose levels in adults stricken with cardiometabolic disorders like obesity, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.And why is that important?It’s important because an elevated fasting […]

  4. Not exactly, the fat that we accumulate is the result of overconsumption of calories our bodies do not need. All the extra fuel we consume becomes fat. There is a correlation between abdominal fat excess and developing type 2 diabetes in susceptible individuals. When our cells are not able to detect insulin as they are supposed to and bring the sugars into the cells then that is when we begin to see rising levels of sugar in the blood. So, when your doctor tells you to loose weight, he/she is correct, loose it because while doing it through exercise and a better diet those two components make cells become sensitive to insulin again and might even keep you from having to take medications for diabetes type 2.

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