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Obesity and Disability Linked continued...

They also evaluated each participant's limitations in activities of daily living and classified them as limited if they had much difficulty or couldn't perform any of three tasks: getting in and out of bed, dressing themselves, and eating.

"At time point 1, obese older people were only 50% more likely than normal-weight people to be functionally impaired," says Alley. "At time point 2, they were 98% more likely to be functionally impaired than normal-weight people."

"The risk of functional impairment among obese elderly increased 24% over time," she tells WebMD.

During the first survey, the risk of having a limitation in daily living activities wasn't significantly different between obese and normal-weight participants. But by the second survey, the risk of having such difficulty was twice as great for obese people.

Study Interpretations

The increases are concerning for a couple of reasons, Alley says.

"One is, it means obese people are experiencing more potentially preventable impairments," she tells WebMD. "Second is that it means in the future, if this trend continues, increasing obesity rates are likely to slow health improvements in the elderly," such as better cardiovascular health due to better treatment.

"The change over time [in increased disability] is what is really surprising," Alley says.

The more obese, the higher the disability risk, the researchers also found. They classified the obese people in three segments:

  • Those with a body mass index of BMI of 30 to 34.9
  • Those with a BMI of 35 to 39.9
  • Those with a BMI of 40 and above

A 5-foot 8-inch person who weighs 164 has a BMI of 24.9 (the top of the healthy range). A person the same height who weighs 197 has a BMI of 30; one who weights 263 has a BMI of 40.

More Obese People Becoming Disabled

"We've seen evidence for a while that obesity relates to disability," says Edward W. Gregg, PhD, an epidemiologist at the CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation, who co-authored an editorial to accompany the study. What the new study shows, however, is that more obese people are disabled than in the past.

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