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Obesity in the Elderly

obesity in adults

Obesity is a condition that increases the risk of illnesses, affects your quality of life, and reduces the life expectancy in both the young and elderly population globally.

The prevalence of obesity in the aging population has been on the rise in recent decades.

During the past thirty years, the proportion of the elderly who are obese has doubled. It is estimated that 40 percent of aging women and 35 percent of men struggle with obesity.

According to the US Census Bureau, the number of US older adults is expected to double by 2050. Aging adults who are obese and overweight are at greater risk of chronic diseases than the rest of the population.

Some of the most common factors contributing to obesity involve genes, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating habits, sleep routine, a large amount of screen time, medical conditions, and medications.

What are the Five Causes of Obesity?

Given that obesity is one of the biggest health problems globally, many studies focus on factors that cause it and strategies to prevent or treat obesity. Here are the five most common causes of obesity.

  1. Genetics

Although obesity is not entirely genetically determined, it does have a strong genetic component. Research suggests that approximately three-quarters of overweight risk in children can be attributed to hereditary factors, while only one third comes from environmental factors.

  1. Sedentary Lifestyle

Physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are strongly correlated with weight gain and obesity. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle burn fewer calories than active individuals. Physical inactivity is also associated with chronic diseases that increase the risk of mortality, including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

  1. Poor Diet and Unhealthy Eating Habits

The energy value of food is measured in calories. Obesity develops gradually as a result of poor diet and unhealthy eating habits. People whose diet contains heavily processed high-calorie foods with little to nutritious value are at greater risk of developing obesity.

  1. Certain Medications

Many medications such as antidepressants or antipsychotics can cause weight gain as a side effect

  1. Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), can contribute to weight gain and obesity.

How Does Obesity Affect the Elderly?

Obesity affects how a person functions daily, impairing the quality of life. The results of several studies showed that obesity might accelerate the aging process. Also, obesity is one of the main risk factors for many health problems, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, arthritis, and other medical conditions.

However, the World Health Organization classifies health problems linked to obesity as either nonfatal or life-threatening.

Nonfatal Health Problems Linked to Obesity

Although conditions such as skin condition, arthritis, and respiratory problems are considered nonfatal, they can become life-threatening.

Obesity aggravates skin conditions such as redness, rashes, itching, and skin breakdowns. As we age, our skin naturally loses about 20 percent of its thickness. The combination of brittle skin and obesity increase the risk of skin problems.

A high body mass index (BMI) in older persons is associated with knee and hip osteoarthritis because obesity increases the pressure on joints, resulting in a breakdown in cartilage. This causes pain, reduced mobility, and further functional disability.

Lungs in obese individuals decrease in size. The natural decrease in respiratory function in the elderly aggravates the decline caused by obesity, which may sometimes cause sleep apnea syndrome in older adults. Sleep apnea syndrome is linked to a greater risk of developing cognitive disorders caused by hypoxia during sleep.

Life-Threatening Conditions Related to Obesity

Coronary heart disease is responsible for mortality in 84 percent of persons 65 years or older. Obesity is a significant factor linked to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Also, type 2 diabetes results from a combination of genes and environmental factors that contribute to obesity.

Obesity is also linked to higher rates of certain forms of cancer, such as breast cancer, colon, kidney, and prostate cancer. Studies show that cancer of the uterus, cervix, gallbladder, and ovaries are more common in obese women.

Should Overweight Elderly Lose Weight?

Losing weight can undoubtedly benefit older adults who are obese or overweight. However, losing weight should be done carefully and safely to prevent damage, such as decreased physical strength and lean muscle loss caused by weight loss.

Obesity impairs the elderly’s health and quality of life. Losing weight may allow the aging person to become more mobile, reduce medication, and independently perform the 12 activities of daily living (ADLs). See what ADL’s are in detail.

However, dramatic weight loss is linked to certain risks. Weight loss can aggravate muscle loss typical for aging, affecting bone density and functional status.

Also, older adults typically take more medications than younger people, so it is essential to consider how weight loss affects medication dosing.

How Can the Elderly Prevent Obesity?

Although several factors cause obesity in aging adults, key reasons why many people become obese as they age involve a decrease in their physical activity, lower metabolic rates, medication, and poor nutrition needs.

To prevent obesity, the elderly should stick to a healthy diet and eat more vegetables, fruits, beans, lean meat and poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy. They should drink a lot of water and choose foods rich in healthy fats like nuts, fatty fish, coconut oil, dark chocolate, and avocados. At the same time, they should avoid or at least limit processed and high-calorie foods with little to no nutritional value, such as sugar, fast food, cookies, pastries, chips, etc.

Although chronic illness or injuries may limit the aging person’s mobility, an active lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent obesity. Burning more calories than they eat or drink can help aging adults stay healthy, prevent obesity, or lose weight.

What Is the Best Way to Control Your Body Weight as You Get Older?

Controlling your weight is one of the essential things as you age. Maintain a healthy weight may lower your risk of injuries and chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, etc.

To maintain a healthy weight, pay attention to what you eat and how much you eat. As you age, your nutrient needs change, so you should eat less. However, ensure that you get enough nutrition to stay healthy.

Drink water instead of juices, soda pop, or alcohol, and make sure you take foods rich in protein and whole grains. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits and avoid salty snacks, baked goods, and deep-fried foods.

Be mindful of your eating habits and make healthier choices more often.

Stay active as physical activity is essential for your health and body weight. Regular exercise helps maintain strength and balance, boosts mood, alleviates stress, anxiety, and depression, and improves sleep. Physical activity can reduce the risk of developing dementia. Also, being active can prevent or lower the risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

What Is an Obese Person?

The term obesity refers to a chronic metabolic disease characterized by an increase in body fat. Adults with a BMI of 40 or greater are considered extremely obese or as high-risk obesity. Persons who are 20 percent more than their ideal weight are typically regarded as obese. For example, a BMI of 30 translates into about 30 pounds overweight.

What is the BMI chart?

The BMI chart helps you see to which category your Body Mass Index belongs and decide whether you need to reduce your weight.



Below 18.5


18.5 to 24.9


25.0 to 29.9


30.0 to 39.9


Over 40

Extreme obesity

How Do You Calculate BMI?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is your weight in kilograms (kg) divided by the square of height in meters (m). A high BMI indicates high body fatness, and it applies to both men and women.

What Is a Healthy BMI for the Elderly?

Your Body Mass Index estimates how much you should weigh based on your height, and it is easy to calculate. You can also use the BMI chart to determine which category your BMI falls into.

It is healthier for adults 65 and older to have a slightly higher BMI. So, if you are 65 or older, it is better if your BMI is between 25 and 27 rather than 25 because a somewhat higher BMI can protect you from osteoporosis.

Although a BMI alone cannot predict the risk of chronic diseases, a Body Mass Index over 30 is considered unhealthy.

What is Sarcopenic Obesity?

Sarcopenic obesity is a medical condition characterized by a disparity between muscle mass and fat mass. In aging adults with sarcopenic obesity, the high-fat group is associated with low muscle mass.

Sarcopenia refers to an age-related loss of muscle mass accompanied by low muscular strength or low physical performance. People with sarcopenia typically experience weakness and loss of energy, which can reduce their physical activity. A reduction in physical activity further aggravates muscle mass loss.

Sarcopenia is a condition that develops gradually. It is caused by various factors such as a loss of muscle fibers and motor neurons, chronic inflammation, anabolic resistance, and a decline in testosterone production.

The most effective treatment for sarcopenia is an exercise in the form of strength training and resistance training.

Evidence shows that the prevalence of sarcopenic obesity increases with age. Around 10 to 15 percent of the aging population experience this condition. Sarcopenic obesity is related to a higher risk of physical disability in the elderly.

Do the Elderly Lose Weight Before They Die?

As a person approaches death, some signs are suggesting that they are preparing to die. Reduced appetite and weight loss can be one of the signs that the end is nearing.

When a person is dying, the body knows it no longer needs the energy to keep going and starts preparing for death. For this reason, many of those who are dying often lose the desire to eat and drink and begin to lose weight. This weight loss is sometimes rapid.

How Long Do Obese People Live?

Research showed that obesity reduces life expectancy in both the young and the aging population. One study estimated that being obese can accelerate death by eight years in men. For women, life expectancy is six years less. At the same time, obesity can cause you to lose up to 20 years of healthy life due to chronic diseases caused by it, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Obesity is associated with other leading causes of death in the US and worldwide, such as stroke and some types of cancer. In general, obesity relates to poorer mental health outcomes and reduced quality of life.

A healthy weight promotes both a longer healthspan and healthy. So, maintaining a healthy weight is about having a much better quality of life.