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Skinny on Fat: Why Looking Thin Doesn’t Mean Being Healthy

Daniel Kim Views  

People commonly judge obesity based on a person’s appearance or body shape. Many overweight individuals have health indicators that are higher than those of average people, representing a negative impact on their health.

However, it’s unsafe to assume that being skinny equates to being healthy. Even if a person doesn’t seem to be fat, they could have high body fat or cholesterol levels, referred to as skinny fat. Doctor Son Bodeuri, the head of the specialized fat removal medical institution 365mc Yeongdeungpo branch, explained the concept to understand the causes and solutions for the increasing prevalence of skinny fat among young women.

Skinny fat is a condition in which the percentage of body fat is high while the muscle mass is low. Even if the Body Mass Index (BMI) is within the normal range, skinny fat may induce various problems, such as insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

A person is considered skinny fat if they appear thin but have a body fat percentage of over 25% for men and over 30% for women. Due to the significantly lower muscle mass compared to fat, the fat tends to accumulate primarily in the abdominal area. When covered with clothes, they look skinny.

The most severe problem is that the rate of skinny fat among young Korean women is the highest in the world. According to the 2024 InBody Report (2018~2022) recently conducted by InBody analyzing 2,187,224 body composition data of women in their twenties worldwide, the rate of skinny fat among Korean women in their twenties is 15.8%, the highest among the countries surveyed.

According to Son, skinny fat can be caused by repetitive dieting. He also suggested that the social atmosphere in Korea, which favors a slim physique, contributes to the prevalence of skinny fat.

Most people who strive to achieve a skinny physique tend to drastically reduce their calorie intake compared to their body’s needs.

Son explained that a diet that involves eating fewer calories than your basal metabolic rate will first break down muscle for energy during weight loss rather than body fat.” He added, “If a low-calorie diet is repeated, muscle mass decreases, and the body’s basal metabolic rate decreases, leading to a body type that easily gains weight. As a result, even if people consume the same amount of calories as before the diet, the energy consumption rate decreases, increasing body fat.”

Irregular meals, lack of exercise, excessive vegetable-based diet, aging, and menopause are also cited as factors that can lead to skinny fat. Visceral fat is a pivotal factor in being skinny fat, which has recently emerged as a significant cause of deteriorating health. In cases of skinny fat, the fat tends to accumulate only in the abdomen unless the thighs, arms, and face are thin, making a red signal in a healthy state. Visceral fat secretes inflammatory substances, meaning that skinny fat individuals with severe abdominal obesity are likely to experience health problems similar to those with general obesity.

According to a study by Professor Eva Chen’s team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the United States, skinny, fat individuals can also suffer from the same diseases as obese individuals.

Son pointed out, “Most people who are skinny fat have an excessive accumulation of fat in their viscera, which increases blood cholesterol, neutral fat, and insulin resistance, increasing the chances of developing various metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.” He added, “Moreover, because they appear thin on the outside, they may trust their health and cause harm unconditionally, so they should be careful.”

To overcome skinny fat, one must first improve their diet. The characteristic of a carbohydrate-centric diet beloved by Koreans can increase blood sugar and neutral fat intake, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Firstly, reducing refined carbohydrates such as white rice, bread, and flour and increasing the intake of whole grains, vegetables, and seaweeds rich in dietary fiber can help prevent fat accumulation in the viscera. Regularly consuming protein-rich foods like beans and chicken breast is also crucial. Fruits and vegetables can suppress insulin secretion and prevent the accumulation of subcutaneous fat in the abdomen.

Son said, “If you want to see improvement in a short period, people may consider getting help from obesity treatments like liposuction, but if you’re a skinny fat person with a lot of visceral fat, it’s hard to solve the problem with liposuction alone. Exercise and diet control should come first.”

According to him, if you’re skinny and have a lot of visceral fat, the answer is to lightly carry out aerobic exercise for about 30 minutes daily and improve your diet to remove visceral fat. You can start by not eating late-night snacks and gradually eating lighter dinners. Once you become accustomed to this, you can add strength training to increase your metabolism, which is a way to prevent skinny fat.

Son advised, “If it’s hard to manage on your own, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help.” He added, “If you seek help from a medical institution like an obesity clinic and proceed with diet and exercise management with the help of medical staff and professional dietitians, you will be able to manage your health more effectively.”

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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