Obese Likely to Spend Last Years Disabled

Obese adults who reach age 70 are no more likely to die than their thinner counterparts, according to a new study. But they are, however, much more likely to spend their remaining years disabled.

Researchers found obesity had little effect on life expectancy after people reached age 70, but it had a major effect on how they spent their last years.

The study showed that both obese and nonobese men and women had roughly the same number of years of life left after 70. But obese senior citizens spent much more of their later years coping with a disability that interfered with daily activities.

Take, for example, the ability to perform normal activities of daily living like bathing, eating, and dressing. Researchers say starting at age 70 the average obese woman can expect to perform these activities without difficulty for two and a half years less than a nonobese woman.

Researchers also say the average obese woman can expect to spend two and a half years longer coping with a major disability than a nonobese woman.

Read WebMD's "Weight Loss Surgery May Help Obese Seniors"

Obesity Affects Disability in Later Years

In the study, researchers followed more than 7,000 senior citizens and calculated the number of years they could expect to live actively or with a disability. The results appear in the August issue of The Gerontologist.

Researchers defined having a disability as having difficulty performing one or more activities of daily living, such as walking across a room, bathing, eating, dressing, using the toilet, or getting in or out of bed. Those who could perform all these activities without difficulty were considered active.

The results showed that women aged 70 could expect to live 15.3 years if they were not obese and 15.5 years if they were obese. But nonobese women averaged more than 10 active years and less than five disabled years; obese women averaged only eight active years followed by more than seven disabled years.

Among men, researchers found obese and nonobese men could both expect to live more than 12 more years. But nonobese men could expect to live actively nearly 10 more years followed by two and a half years with a disability. Meanwhile, obese 70-year-old men could only expect a little more than eight active years followed by four years with disability.

Researchers say the results suggest that interventions to help older people lose weight could reduce their risk of disability and allow them to stay active longer.

Read WebMD's "Overweight People Get Less Preventive Care"

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Reynolds, S. The Gerontologist, August 2005; vol 45: pp 438-444. News release, The Gerontological Society of America.