We all have that friend who can put away a bucket full of fries and toss back soda without it taking an effect. However as you look on with jealousy, it might help to know that thin doesn’t always mean healthy!

In today’s society, we focus a lot on outward appearances, or the number on the scale. Now, that can be a good indicator of how healthy you are, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, and that is why it is becoming increasingly common to find people who are ‘skinny fat’, or to use the scientific term, to suffer from normal weight obesity (NWO).

What is ‘skinny fat’?

Being ‘skinny fat’ means that although you may look great in clothes, you may be flabby or without any muscle definition underneath. For many of us, our health goals are geared toward vanity — or at least when we start out — so you can see how many get into this position.

Why doesn’t skinny always equal healthy?

There are a number of reasons why being thin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy.

  1. It’s all about the kind of fat

Depending on the kind of fat, you may be more at risk from negative effects such as diabetes or heart problems. For example, fat that is deposited just underneath the skin doesn’t contribute to these disorders all that much, whereas fat which accumulates in deeper tissues and organs can put you at greater risk. Skinny people may not have much visible fat under their skin, but could have fat deeper in their bodies, embedded in organs such as the liver.

  1. It can make you skip regular health check ups

When you’re thin, you’re less likely to go for regular check up for things like diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure. This is because these health issues are often associated with being overweight. But diet and exercise play a part too, and even with a high metabolism, you can suffer from these diseases later in life.

  1. You may be skipping exercise

If you’re thin, you may think that you don’t need to exercise because you’re not relying to lose weight. But exercise is important for lowering cholesterol and starving off diabetes too!

For these reasons, scientists at the Mayo Clinic have found that more than half of those with normal weights and BMIs actually had “high body-fat percentages as well as heart and metabolic disturbances”. This means they had the same risks of coronary disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses as people who weighed much more.

What steps can I take to ensure I’m healthy?

If you’re worried about how much body fat you have, even if you’re skinny, start with these steps to make sure you’re not in a false sense of security;

  • Stop focusing on the pounds. It’s true that if you are trying to lose weight you will be more likely to succeed if you weigh yourself often, but seeing numbers in a healthy range may actually disguise your heart disease risk.
  • Measure your body fat at home by wrapping a cloth measuring tape around your naked waist, just above your belly button. If your weight is pretty normal, but the number on the measure is 35 inches or more, you may have NWO. For a more accurate reading, ask your doctor!