Obesity, Disability Linked in Elders
Obese Older Adults Develop More Disabilities, Study Shows
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.
That may be due, Gregg, Alley, and her co-researcher believe, to the fact
that the people studied in the second time period have spent more years being
obese than those studied in the first time period when obesity was not as
common. In effect, the years of obesity have caught up with them.
That explanation makes sense to Roland Sturm, PhD, senior economist at the
Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., who has published predictions about obesity
causing more disability. "It's long been known than obesity has a lot do to
with disability," he tells WebMD after reviewing the new study. "The
new wrinkle here is, the effect of obesity on disability may have
He adds: "The effects of obesity, just like the effects of smoking, only show up after a while."