Obesity in later life has little impact on mortality but greatly increases morbidity, potentially leading to a “ticking time bomb” for health and social services in developed countries.
These are the findings from a research project conducted by academics from the Peninsula Medical School in southwest England.
The project – which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society – examined data from almost 4,000 community-dwelling people aged 65 and over, who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
As part of the ELSA Study, each participant had their weight, height and body mass index (BMI) measured.
While the link between a high BMI and death among older people was quite weak, the Peninsula study found that the higher an older person’s BMI, the more likely they were to develop mobility problems.
“We have known for some time that young and middle-aged adults who are overweight run a higher risk of death and it was presumed that this held true for older people,” said head researcher, Dr Iain Ling.
“In fact, our results show that the risk of dying is higher only for the most severely obese but that all older people who are overweight are at significantly increased risk of developing problems with mobility and carrying out everyday tasks.”
Dr Ling said the findings have significant implications for health planning in the developed world.
“Increasing numbers of older people and higher levels of overweight and obesity will lead to a greater burden of disability and ill health and place an immense strain on health and social services,” he said.
“The issue is likely to get worse as time goes on and represents a ticking time bomb for health services around the world.”
The CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore said a healthy body weight is a key to good overall health.
“We are certainly aware that nutrition and exercise are absolutely fundamental to the prevention of chronic disease. And the fact that obesity has a greater impact in older age should not be surprising at all,” Mr Moore said.