August 27, 2008

Obesity is a Ticking Timebomb

Obesity in later life causes increased disability creating a "ticking time bomb" for health and social services, Plymouth researchers have discovered.

A team from Peninsula Medical School is publishing the groundbreaking findings of a five-year study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society this month.

Dr Iain Lang, who led the research, said increasing numbers of older people and higher levels of obesity are set to put 'immense strain' on health and social services in the developed world.

He said: "This research is important because a growing proportion of the population is aged 65 or over, and more and more of these people are overweight.

"In fact in most developed countries, middle-aged and elderly adults are more likely to be obese than people in any other age group. The issue is likely to get worse as time goes on and represents a ticking time bomb for health services around the world."

The study showed the higher an older person's body mass index (BMI), the more likely he or she is to develop mobility problems or have difficulty with everyday tasks.

The results also showed, in older people, the link between higher BMI and the risk of death is weak - only severely obese older men seemed to run this increased risk.

Dr Lang said: "We have known for some time that young and middle- aged adults who are overweight run a higher risk of death and it was presumed that this held true for older people.

"In fact, our results show that the risk of dying is higher only for the most severely obese but all older people who are overweight are at significantly increased risk of developing problems with mobility and carrying out everyday tasks."

The team worked with just under 4,000 people aged 65 and older, living across the country in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Each participant had their weight and height measured and their BMI (body mass index) calculated and they were followed up for five years.

The researchers compared people with BMI of 20 to 24.9 (those of recommended weight), with those who had a BMI of 25 to 29.9 (overweight), 30 to 34.9 (obese), or 35 or over (severely obese).

Dr Gill Lewendon, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Plymouth Teaching Primary Care Trust (PCT), added: "The PCT and Plymouth City Council work closely with a range of agencies to provide increased opportunities for everyone to eat more healthily."

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