The question of whether a person’s weight or body shape can be viewed as a reliable indicator of health has long been a cause for debate. A recent tweet from Piers Morgan has ignited it once more. In his post, Morgan shared one of a series of Cosmopolitan magazine covers, featuring fitness enthusiasts with a range of body shapes, not commonly associated with the world of wellness.
“This is healthy!” proclaims the cover.
“No, it’s not. And given that obesity is a major factor in why many get severe covid illness, this cover is shamefully irresponsible,” Morgan retorted.
First, to address his initial claim: there is evidence to suggest that obesity or a high BMI are linked to an increased severity of illness with COVID-19. But there is also evidence that a person with, say, asthma is at increased risk of illness from the virus. Does that preclude all asthmatics from acting as positive role models for the pursuit of better health?
What constitutes “healthy” is a complicated issue. There’s our eating and exercise habits, sure. But we must also consider our stress levels, our social connections, our sleep quality and whether or not we smoke, not all of which are guaranteed to tip the scales.
Even the term “fit” is somewhat fuzzy. Every regular gym-goer will have observed that the trimmest exercisers aren’t always the fastest, strongest or most mobile.
A couple of years ago, I interviewed Dr Adam Collins, a nutrition and metabolism expert at the University of Surrey, about this very issue. “The relationship between BMI and metabolic health is not linear,” he told me. “By adopting healthy habits, a person with obesity can make major improvements without visibly losing weight.”
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He pointed me to a study analysis published in the journal Obesity Reviews, which concluded that it’s possible for a person classified as overweight to have normal blood pressure, cholesterol levels and insulin balance, although that is patently not always the case. But, equally, an estimated 18%