There has been confusion about the impact of obesity on health as people age, with some data even suggesting that overweight or even obese folks might have an advantage in terms of longevity. Perhaps more important, however, might be the impact of obesity on seniors quality of life. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine explores that issue with respect to older women.
Dr. Eileen Rillamas-Sun of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and colleagues investigated the extent to which late-age (85+ years) survival without disease or disability is affected by obesity. In other words, was the likelihood of reaching 85 years of age -without major chronic disease such as diabetes or coronary artery disease - diminished by obesity.
The study population included over 36,600 women who had participated in the Women s Health Initiative study, who could reach 85 years of age by September 2012. At baseline, they ranged from 66 to 81 years old, and were followed for nearly 19 years. The women were classified into 5 groups: 1) healthy no major chronic diseases; 2) prevalent diseased survived with 1 or more major disease at baseline, but no new disease; 3) survived & developed 1 or more chronic diseases but not disability; 4) survived and developed mobility disability with or without disease; 5) died before reaching 85 years old.
Body size was determined based on BMI and waist circumference. The researchers compared normal weight, overweight and obese women with respect to which of the above groups they belonged to. They found that, compared to healthy-weight women, obese women were more likely to die before age 85 (group 5). Overweight and obese women also had much higher risks of new disease and disability (groups 3 and 4). Again, compared to healthy-weight women, overweight women had a 60 percent higher risk of mobility disability, while the obese women s risk ranged from 3 to 6 fold greater, depending on the degree of obesity.
In their discussion, the authors commented Obese women, in particular, had an increased risk of developing a mobility disability by 85 years of age. Successful strategies aimed at maintaining healthy body weight, minimizing abdominal fat accretion, and guiding safe, intentional weight loss for those who are already obese should be further investigated and disseminated.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava concurred We know that the elderly population is expanding and will continue to grow, and mobility disabilities in older folks will affect quality of life, retention of independence, long-term care, and likelihood of institutionalization. Promoting obesity prevention and treatment are crucial for achieving a healthy old age.