Obese Elderly Have Fewer Years Of Healthy Life, Study Shows

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Analyzing data from a survey of Singaporean adults over the age of 60, researchers reported that obese seniors have a higher risk of experiencing physical limitations in old age.

AsianScientist (May 30, 2019) – A team of researchers in Singapore has found that older adults with obesity could have lower life expectancies and are more likely to experience physical limitations. They published their study results in the International Journal of Obesity.

Obesity is becoming increasingly prevalent among adults in many countries, especially those with aging populations. While some previous studies have reported that older adults with a higher body mass index (BMI) can expect to live as long as those with normal weight, it is worthwhile investigating if those with obesity also spend a similar duration of remaining life in good health.

In the present study, researchers led by Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra at Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Medical School analyzed data from a national longitudinal survey of 3,452 Singaporean adults over the age of 60. They measured the association between BMI categories (underweight; normal weight; pre-obese; obese) and years of remaining life with and without limitations in physical function and in activities of daily living.

Limitation in physical function was defined as difficulty in completing any of nine tasks involving the arms and legs, such as walking 200-300 meters, climbing ten steps without resting or raising the hands above the head. Limitation in activities of daily living was assessed in terms of difficulty in doing six basic activities, such as bathing, dressing or eating, or seven instrumental activities, such as doing housework, managing their medications or taking public transport.

The team found that, at age 60, adults with obesity could expect about six more years of remaining life with limitation in physical function and about five fewer years of remaining life without this limitation compared to those with normal weight. Similarly, in terms of limitation in activities of daily living, at age 60, those with obesity could expect 3.5 more years of remaining life with this limitation and 3.5 fewer years of remaining life without this limitation compared to those with normal weight. These patterns were also observed at age 70 and 80, and were the same regardless of gender, ethnicity or educational status.

“Our study suggests that health systems, social and community services in aging populations need to continue focusing on promoting normal weight as well as maintaining physical abilities of older adults in order to increase healthy life years,” said Associate Professor Angelique Chan Wei-Ming at the Duke-NUS Medical School and co-author of the study. The team is conducting a similar study on a new cohort of older Singaporeans (beginning in 2017), who are eight to nine years younger than the participants of this current study.

They plan to compare the results between the two cohorts for a better picture of how the effect of higher BMI on the years of healthy life may be changing over time.

The article can be found at: Tareque et al. (2019) Years of Life With and Without Limitation in Physical Function and in Activities of Daily Living by Body Mass Index Among Older Adults.

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