Being Overweight Doesn't Appear to Boost Risk of Death in Later Life, But Being Sedentary Does
The number of people classified as "overweight" or "obese" is rising rapidly in much of the world. This is a problem because people who are overweight or obese tend to run higher risks of poor health, disability, and death. For this reason, healthcare providers usually advise people who are overweight or obese to lose weight. Some research, however, suggests that being overweight in later life may not be so risky and could, in fact, lower risks of death.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Investigating further, researchers recently studied more than 9,000 older men and women over the course of 10 years. The men and women were 70- to 75-years-old at the start of the study. All lived in the community, rather than in a nursing or other long-term care facility.
The researchers divided the adults into four groups, depending on whether they were classified as being "underweight," "normal weight," "overweight" or "obese." They then compared how risks of death from all causes, and from cardiovascular disease (heart disease), cancer, and chronic respiratory disease (lung disease), differed among these four groups.
In addition, the researchers compared rates of death among older adults who exercised and those who were sedentary.
They found that older adults who were classified as overweight ran a lower risk of death from all causes, and from heart disease, cancer, and respiratory disease , than those classified as normal weight, underweight, and obese. The researchers also found that older adults who were sedentary ran a higher risk of death than those who exercised.
It's not completely clear why overweight older adults appear to run a lower risk of death than others. But it's possible that carrying some extra weight, or having extra "nutritional reserves," may help older adults survive if, for example, they become ill, the researchers write in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
"Overweight older people are not at increased (risk of death) and there is little evidence that dieting in this age group confers any benefit," the researchers conclude. "In fact, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that weight loss (among elderly overweight adults) is harmful."
What Should I Do?
Ask your healthcare provider if you are at a healthy weight, and for advice on how to exercise if you are sedentary.
The summary above is from the full report titled, "Body Mass Index and Survival in Older Men and Women Aged 70 to 75 Years." It is in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 59, Issue 2). The report is authored by Leon Flicker, PhD, Kieran A. McCaul, PhD, Graeme J Hankey, MD, Konrad Jamrozik, PhD, Wendy J. Brown, PhD, Julie E. Byles, PhD, and Osvaldo P. Almeida, PhD.