Text Link

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Learn more about the results we get at Within

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Disproving the obesity paradox: Why it’s not a paradox at all

The “obesity paradox” is not only a fatphobic and stigmatizing term, but it’s also misleading since it’s not a paradox at all. But what does it mean exactly? And why is the term inaccurate?

 minute read
Last updated on 
March 15, 2023
Disproving the obesity paradox: Why it’s not a paradox at all
In this article

What is the “obesity” paradox?

The “obesity” paradox refers to the seemingly incongruous observation that, although the medical community considers “obesity” to be a major cause of various diseases, that is actually not true. Extensive evidence-based research consistently demonstrates that being at a higher weight can actually decrease mortality from a variety of illnesses or diseases. In fact, “obesity” has been found to be a survival benefit in many populations, such as those with chronic conditions. (1)

For this reason, experts refer to this seeming contradiction as the obesity paradox. Although, it is hardly contradictory when you look at the actual research examining “obesity” and disease states, as well as the weight stigma that’s driving this false assumption.

Why “obesity” is hardly a paradox

It’s believed that “obesity” is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Yet, once someone experiences congestive heart failure or a heart attack, “obesity” can be a protective factor and result in reduced mortality. (1,2)

Additionally, research indicates that men living in larger bodies who have chronic hypertensive heart disease tend to live longer than their peers of normal body weight. And research also suggests that “obese” patients may have better outcomes after surgeries like coronary artery bypass surgery. (1)

Overall, research shows that being “overweight” is a survival advantage for individuals with: (2)

  • Kidney disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease

There's no such thing as "normal weight"

A growing body of research also indicates important racial differences related to weight. Black women and men tend to be healthier at higher weights and with bigger waist circumferences than their white counterparts. This may be because they have lower visceral fat, the fat around the organs that is associated with an increased risk of various health conditions. (4,5,6)

Although higher visceral fat alone doesn’t increase risk, it is merely associated with increased risk and is not a proven cause of these health conditions. There are many other factors that increase the risk of certain health conditions, and weight or fat alone has not been proven to do so.

Given the evidence, it’s undeniable that “obesity” can be a survival benefit among various populations. So much so that it’s likely not a paradox at all, but an example of weight stigma and fatphobia because associating weight and health is incorrect. 

BMI’s influence on false beliefs about “obesity”

“Obesity” is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. And BMI is not a viable measurement for health (or "normal" weight), given that it doesn’t take into account bone density, muscle mass, biological and environmental influences, and racial and sex differences, among other factors. It simply measures a person’s weight-to-height ratio—nothing more. 

The fatphobia of the “obesity” paradox

Fatphobia, which is the hatred and fear of fat bodies, can lead to weight stigma or discrimination based on someone’s body weight. It is a prevalent force in our society that can lead to harmful psychological consequences for someone living in a larger body—none of which are related to their weight. 

Fatphobia is present everywhere, such as in medical settings, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, pop culture, social media, athletics, as well as scientific literature. 

“Obesity” as a social construct

When researchers refer to their findings as the “obesity” paradox, they are essentially saying that they can’t believe people with higher-weight bodies could be healthy. This is a fatphobic perspective that perpetuates weight stigma.

The outdated, uninformed, and inherently fatphobic research that determines “obesity” as a major risk factor for various negative health outcomes incriminates the wrong influence—the person’s weight or fat. It is the experience of living in a larger body and being subjected to chronic body weight stigma that has a known negative impact on health and well-being, as well as biological, environmental, and social determinants. 

Research has consistently found that weight stigma can increase the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, stomach ulcers, and heart disease. (8

“Obesity” as a victim of flawed research methods and false assumptions

So, really, it is our discrimination against people in larger bodies and other known factors that contribute to negative health effects—not their weight. The words we use matter. The findings related to “obesity” and survival benefits are not contradictory. People can be healthy at all different sizes, shapes, and weights.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Amundson, D. E., Djurkovic, S., & Matwiyoff, G. N. (2010). The obesity paradox. Critical Care Clinics, 26(4), 583–596. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20970043/ 
  2. Donini, L.M., Pinto, A., Giusti, A.M., Lenzi, A., and Poggiogalle, E. (2020). Obesity or BMI Paradox? Beneath the Tip of the Iceberg. Frontiers in Nutrition, 7(53). https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.00053/full 
  3. Banack, H., Stokes, A. (2017). The ‘obesity paradox’ may not be a paradox at all. International Journal of Obesity, 41, 1162–1163. https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo201799 
  4. National Public Radio. (2020). Fat Phobia and Its Racist Past and Present. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/893006538 
  5. Katzmarzyk, P. T., Bray, G. A., Greenway, F. L., Johnson, W. D., Newton, R. L., Jr, Ravussin, E., Ryan, D. H., & Bouchard, C. (2011). Ethnic-specific BMI and waist circumference thresholds. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 19(6), 1272–1278. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3933952/ 
  6. Carroll, J.F., Chiapa, A.L., Rodriquez, M., Phelps, D.R., Cardarelli, K.M., et. al. (2012). Visceral Fat, Waist Circumference, and BMI: Impact of Race/ethnicity. Obesity, 16(3): 600-607. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1038/oby.2007.92 
  7. Powell-Wiley, T.M., Poirier, P., Burke, L.E., Despres, J., Gordon-Larsen, P., Lavie, C.J., et. al. (2021). Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation 143: 984-1010. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000973 
  8. Udo, T., Purcell, K., & Grilo, C. M. (2016). Perceived weight discrimination and chronic medical conditions in adults with overweight and obesity. International Journal of Clinical Practice, 70(12), 1003–1011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5215793/


Further reading

The real problem with “obesity”

Over the last few decades, several headlines have claimed that “obesity” has increased nearly threefold in...

What is the difference between body positivity and body neutrality

Demonizing or singling people out for their body weight, shape, or size is not only cruel but can...

10 body image affirmations

Eating disorders are often recognized by their physical symptoms, but some of the most harmful aspects of...

How to talk to your kids about diet culture when they’re given “healthy eating” homework

School is one of the primary places where children can learn about healthy eating, as well as where they...

Creating a body-positive and anti-diet culture at home

Let’s face it—diet culture is everywhere, from food labels and advertisements to TV and social media...

Disproving the obesity paradox: Why it’s not a paradox at all

The “obesity paradox” is not only a fatphobic and stigmatizing term, but it’s also misleading since...

How body positivity can exclude trans people

Although some people find hope, acceptance, and empowerment within the body positive movement...

“Perfecting” perfection - uncovering problematic celebrity photoshopping

Perfection does not exist; therefore, it is an unattainable standard. Why are we so focused on labeling...

What is diet culture?

You’ve probably heard of the term “diet culture” if you’ve spent any time immersed in...

Unrealistic beauty standards and body dysmorphic disorder treatment

Over the last 100 years, the notion of what qualifies as attractive has varied...

How to deal with and overcome body insecurity

Your body image is how you see your own body, and how you feel about what you perceive...

Can the effects of negative body image lead to an eating disorder?

Body image influences a number of things about the way we feel and act, for better...

How diet culture can lead to eating disorders

Diet culture is all around, from advertisements and food labels to social media and influencers. It is so...

Harmful outcomes of the pro-ana movement

Imagine that there were websites that encouraged people not to get treatment for...

The racist history of fatphobia and weight stigma

Fatphobia and weight stigma are insidious forces in our society. Fatphobia...

Is intermittent fasting disordered eating?

Intermittent fasting is a relatively popular diet regimen involving periods of...

The devastating effects of Instagram and body image

A recent study has revealed that social media apps, such as Instagram and...

Improving your body image in bulimia recovery

Improving body image is one of many individuals’ most challenging parts of bulimia...

How gender dysphoria affects body image

‍Gender presentation, identity, and body image are inherently linked. This...

Healthism: When a focus on healthy living becomes problematic

Healthism refers to a set of attitudes and beliefs that health is the most...

Fatphobia is alive and rampant in the gay male community

Fatphobia and weight stigma are unfortunately rampant in among gay men, in...

What is body neutrality and why is it important in eating disorder recovery?

Many people have heard of the body positivity movement, a campaign encouraging people—though primarily...

Binge eating disorder and the trauma of weight stigma

Someone who is struggling with binge eating disorder experiences recurring...

Further reading

No items found.