Women who are obese as they
near retirement age have a higher risk of early death and may find their
remaining years blighted by disability, researchers say.
Obese women are three to
six times more likely to suffer a disability late in life that will make it
difficult for them to get around, with the risk rising with their level of
obesity, according to a new study published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.
A second study in the same
journal issue found that being overweight or obese raises your risk of heart
attack and heart disease even if you are otherwise healthy.
The number of women aged 85
years and older in the United States is increasing, according to study
background information, with 11.6 million women expected to reach 85 by 2050.
Obesity rates also continue
to increase, and nearly one-third of US women 75 years and older are obese.
This extra weight not only reduces life span, but also can severely harm an
older woman's quality of life.
"For dying and losing
the ability to walk, the risks were alarmingly high – over threefold to
upwards of over sixfold," said study co-author Eileen Rillamas-Sun, a staff
scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, in Seattle. "I
believe that remaining mobile is very important to most older people,
especially since it is useful for retaining one's independence."
The new findings aren't
that surprising, but they're important, one expert noted.
Together, the two studies
"verify something that we knew, but give us some more ammunition to craft
more programmes and pay more attention to women's body weight and obesity
overall," said Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American
Public Health Association (APHA).
"The obesity epidemic
isn't just our kids, and if you are thinking forward we are having this
enormous growth as the baby boomers age through society," he said.
"We're going to have to spend a lot of time encouraging women to achieve a
sensible body weight."
examined the health records of nearly 37 000 older women participating in the
Women's Health Initiative, a long-term study sponsored by the US National
Institutes of Health.
The researchers found that
about 12% of healthy-weight women had become disabled by age 85, requiring a
walker or some other assistance for getting around.
By comparison, between 25%
and 34% of obese women were disabled, with incidence rising with the patient's
body mass index (BMI), a measurement of body fat that takes height and weight
Overall, a waist
circumference greater than 35 inches was associated with a higher risk of early
death, along with new diseases developing during the study period and mobility
disability, the researchers said.
These findings, while
focused on women, should also give men pause, Rillamas-Sun said.
"I do expect that
these findings would be similar in men," she said, noting that her study
was modelled on a Honolulu-based heart and aging study, which looked at
Japanese-American men. "In that study, they showed that men who were
leaner in midlife were more likely to survive to late-age and be healthy."
In the second new study,
Danish researchers reviewed the health data of nearly 72 000 people to
determine the effects of overweight and obesity on heart health.
The investigators found
that people who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of heart attack or
heart disease even if they do not have other metabolic syndrome risk factors
such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.
Never too late to lose weight
In people without metabolic
syndrome, heart attack risk increased 26 percent if they were overweight and 88
percent if they were obese, the researchers said. Obese people without
metabolic syndrome also had a 45% increased risk of heart disease.
These findings show it is
never too late to lose weight, Rillamas-Sun said.
"Obesity, even in
older ages as this study shows, is a risk factor for numerous negative health
outcomes," she said. "There are weight-loss interventions that have
been shown to be effective for older populations, and older adults who have
lost weight have been shown to have improvements in their health."
APHA's Benjamin agreed,
noting that losing weight can help control diabetes, improve arthritis pain,
boost heart health and make a person better able to recuperate from knee or hip
"This study emphasises
the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding excessive weight
gain after menopause or in your late mid-life. By doing this, you will improve
your chances, not only of living longer, but of being healthy and ambulatory in
late-age," Rillamas-Sun concluded.
For more about obesity,
visit the US National Library of Medicine.
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