Disabilities related to obesity and arthritis decrease women's quality of life during their senior years, according to research presented Saturday at the American Geriatrics Society's annual meeting in Chicago.
"While women tend to live longer than men, this study shows that they are at greater risk of living with disability and much of the excess disability is attributable to higher rates of obesity and arthritis," Dr. Heather Whitson from Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina who presented the study, noted in a statement.
Among 5,888 men and women older than 65 years enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study, Whitson and her colleagues found that women suffered up to two and a half times more disabilities than men of the same age. Higher rates of obesity and arthritis among these women explained up to 48 percent of the gender gap in disability.
"This is important because it suggests that women's tendency to pack on extra pounds in their child-bearing and peri-menopausal years translates into loss of independence in their old age," Whitson added. "Preventing weight gain in young to middle-aged women may decrease disability burden in later years."
Dr. Harvey Jay Cohen, the study's lead investigator and director of Duke's Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, said: "The findings of our study are more troubling when you consider the increasing rates of obesity among women. We need to help women make better decisions earlier in life."
In addition to obesity and arthritis, the study team found the women were much more likely than men to fracture a bone and suffer from vision problems and bronchitis. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to have emphysema, heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, diabetes and hearing problems. They were also more likely to have trouble walking due to narrowed leg arteries.
Researchers say that the next step is to see whether older women with disabilities related to obesity or arthritis regain function if they lose weight and get their arthritis pain under control.