Life course factors associated with metabolically healthy obesity: a protocol for the systematic review of longitudinal studies

Background: There is heterogeneity among obese individuals, as some appear to have healthier metabolic profiles and decreased health risks. These individuals are defined as metabolically healthy obese (MHO), whilst those with unhealthy metabolic profiles are defined as metabolically unhealthy obese (MUO). To date, most research on MHO has been cross-sectional or focused on disease prognosis. However, longitudinal studies are required to provide greater insight into the life course factors that contribute to the development of MHO. This study aims to systematically review longitudinal studies investigating the association between life course exposures and future MHO status. Methods: Electronic databases (MEDLINE, SCOPUS, and Web of Science) will be searched using a trialled search strategy. Studies will be included following a double-screening process according to inclusion criteria to assess eligibility. Studies eligible for inclusion will include those that have a longitudinal observational design where a life course exposure occurred or was measured at least 1 year before the outcome, investigate a human study population, are published in English after 1956, and investigate the association between ≥ 1 life course exposure and ≥ 1 outcome that reflects a measure of cardiometabolic resilience to obesity. Accepted life course exposures will include body size, body composition, pubertal development, smoking, diet, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and psychosocial stress. The primary measure of cardiometabolic resilience to obesity will be MHO as an outcome (at follow-up). Studies investigating the development of cardiometabolic risk factors in an obese group without specifying MHO will also be accepted, such as the development of the metabolic syndrome (MetS) in an obese group. Key results of included studies will be tabulated, and a narrative synthesis will be conducted. Discussion: This will be the first systematic review to summarise the literature on the life course correlates of MHO. Importantly, it may highlight which modifiable lifestyle factors could be targeted to delay the onset of cardiometabolic complications among the obese.