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Obesity in the elderly is a major predictor of loss of independence and shorter life

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Prior to 1980, fewer than one in ten people were obese in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.  The U.S. is one of 34 advanced or emerging countries that make up the OECD.  While weight gain provided a largely beneficial health consequence for several centuries, a significant percent of the world population no longer experiences benefits and in fact are experiencing health declines because of excess weight.  Unfortunately, the U.S. is leading the way on obesity.  Currently, we Americans make up 13 percent of the global overweight and obese population according to the  (OECD), yet we make up only 5 percent of the world’s population.   Experts consider more than two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese.

Today, a quarter of all newly admitted nursing home residents in American nursing homes are obese.  Excessive food consumption and a sedentary life increase the odds of becoming obese once in the nursing home.  Whether in a nursing home or out of it, obesity impacts an individual’s lifespan.  The OECD estimates that severely obese people die 8 to 10 years sooner than those of normal weight.  In addition, obesity is estimated to be responsible for 5 percent to 10 percent of total health expenditures in the United States.  One study found that the per-person cost for obesity were similar to that for smoking.

While the obesity rates have increased, so too has the number of older people in each country.  High birthrates in the middle of the last century and longer survival rates mean that the world as a whole will see an increase from 7 percent of the population in 1950 to 19 percent in 2050 of the “oldest-old” (those 80 and over).  By 2030, nearly 20 percent of the population in the United States will be 65 or older.  While those numbers seem like a positive trend, the true nature of an older population struggling with obesity means that in a few short decades, disability will likely affect a significant part of the American population.  Those individuals will be surviving with cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.  One study found that inflammation highly influenced aging.  Inflammation is a normal consequence of aging but belly fat exacerbates inflammation.  That inflammation may lead to developing Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers.  In addition, obese patients, whether they receive care in a nursing home or hospital, require additional staff and costly equipment and increases the odds that their care can create health problems for the people caring for them including health professionals and family caregivers.

These conditions challenge our current health care and financial systems and will likely have an even greater impact in just two or three more decades.  The rising rates of obesity raise a number of concerns including an increased prevalence of nursing home admissions, a higher cost of care for facilities and a resulting poorer quality of care.   In addition, researchers associate obesity with a greater risk of falling in older adults and a higher risk of Activities of Daily Living disability.  For both the nation and the individual, obesity costs money.  One study found that obese 70 year olds paid $40,000 more for health care over their lifetimes than healthy 70 year olds paid.

Protecting your health should be your number one priority.  Being healthy reduces or even eliminates the burden on your children, prevents you from spending expensive time in a nursing home and protects you from the high cost of health care.  Statistically, we’re all going to live long lives.  It’s up to you whether that extra time is a boon or a bummer.

There are significant differences between the terms obesity and overweight.  Some people struggle with their weight all their lives.  An extra 20 pounds or so might affect how you look in a swimsuit but it’s the 80 to 100 pounds of excessive weight that will affect whether you are able to be mobile and whether you become like Sisyphus and find caring for your health becomes an uphill battle.  Starting to do something about it can be as simple as taking a few extra steps a day.  Here’s an article from last week about a low cost, effective measure to reduce weight (notice I didn’t suggest it was miraculous).  Anti-aging miracle is just a step away.

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