Obesity has been linked to diseases diabetes to certain forms of cancer to death. Generally, people are classified as obese if their BMI is over 30. A BMI over 25 places someone as overweight. With almost 36 percent of Americans classified as obese, the condition is considered a growing health concern.

But a study has found that obesity is not necessarily a death sentence. In fact, according the study conducted by American and European researchers, obese people who are fit are no more likely to die early than other people. The study was partially funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and by Coca Cola, the world's largest maker of soft drinks.

The study measured the body mass indexes of over 43,000 participants with hydrostatic weighing or skinfolds. Skinfolds use a tool called calipers that pinches the skin to analyze the percentage of fat in a person's body; hydrostatic weighing requires people to go into a tank of water while researchers measure the displacement of the water. Then researchers measured participants' fitness levels with a treadmill test.

The study found that 46 percent of obese participants were fit. According to the study, authors say, "When adjusting for fitness and other confounders, metabolically healthy but obese individuals had lower risk...of all-cause mortality, non-fatal and fatal cardiovascular disease, and cancer mortality than their metabolically unhealthy obese peers; while no significant differences were observed between metabolically healthy but obese and metabolically healthy normal-fat participants."

In other words, people were both fit and obese had lower instances of heart issues and deaths from cancer than people who were obese and unhealthy. Their health was also equivalent to people who were considered healthy but whose BMI was considered normal.

Though the study comes with a generous sample size, the participants were mainly homogeneous: Caucasian, well-educated professionals. Therefore, the results of the study may not apply to everyone.

Researchers also stress that everyone shouldn't rush out there and expand their waistlines. They simply state that the numbers on the scale are less important indicators of health than BMIs and waist size, and that exercise benefits everyone. You can approximate your BMI with a calculator at this link.

The study was conducted between 1979 and 2003. It was published in the most recent edition of European Heart Journal.