Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/2/2012 (2023 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Early in the year, most of us make resolutions, one of which nearly always is to change our lifestyle to finally reach the dream body weight.
We know that a healthy body weight is an objective for many adolescents and middle-aged adults, but what about older adults, those over 65?
Do you think they do not care about their body weight, their waistline or their body image because of their age?
Think again! Research has shown that more than 53 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men between 50 and 70 years of age are currently trying to lose weight. They might have different reasons than their younger counterparts to pursue weight loss; however, based on my research with weight-loss intervention in older adults, it appears that beauty and social desirability to be thin are still a major part of the reasons for the oldest individuals.
By 2041, a quarter of all Canadians will be over 65 years old. One of the many expected health challenges associated with this fact is that not only are their numbers increasing, but so is the proportion of those who are obese.
For example, between 1978 and 2004, the percentage of obese adults over 75 years of age jumped to 24 per cent from 11 per cent. This is not surprising since treatments for obesity-related conditions -- Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol -- have improved and the number of obese adolescents and young adults is constantly increasing.
The consequences of obesity may have a greater impact in older adults because of the normal aging process. Here are some examples:
First, several co-morbidities and diseases are strongly associated with obesity; for example, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease.
Second, obesity-related conditions are associated with a reduction in quality of life and a tremendous increase in health-care costs.
Third, more resources are needed to care for obese older adults in nursing homes than for their thinner counterparts. An example is having to lift them for bathing.
Fourth, obesity is related to an increased risk of falling and more functional limitations that reduce the ability to carry out activities of daily living and encourage isolation.
One of the solutions is weight loss. In older adults, however, health-care professionals are reluctant to promote weight loss because they are afraid it might have more negative consequences than benefits.
There are several reasons why weight loss in older adults is controversial. One is that caloric restriction may negatively contribute to fat-free mass loss, bone mass loss or to the high proportion of older adults who do not reach the daily recommendation of macronutrients, such as protein, or micronutrients, such as vitamin B12.
Still, several studies have shown it possible to maintain muscle mass and bone mass while reducing body weight in older adults by including physical activity in the weight-loss program.
In general, weight loss based on progressive lifestyle modifications can be beneficial to obese individuals despite their age as long as it is progressive (about one per cent per week), meets daily nutritional requirements and is voluntary.
Contrary to the idea that older adults do not care about their body image or that it is too hard to get them to change long-term habits, a study has shown that independent of age, the higher the body weight, the higher the desire to start a weight-loss program.
Furthermore, studies have shown that older adults would have greater long-term weight-loss results than younger adults simply by changing their lifestyle.
Another argument against a weight-loss program for older people is the increased mortality risk associated with weight loss in older adults. While this is true, ask obese adults if they would mind dying one to two years earlier in exchange for a healthy body weight.
Finally, of course, weight-loss maintenance is a challenge for all age groups and some may question if it is worth it to attempt weight loss. However, any time people lose weight, they enjoy a better lifestyle and thus a reduction in health-risk factors. The secret of those who successfully maintain permanent weight loss is to change their lifestyle for good and not only for a short period, and this can apply to any age group.
In summary, it is never too late to implement a healthy lifestyle and slowly reduce body weight in order to decrease the health risks associated with obesity. There are several local programs that older obese individuals can join to change their lifestyle and lose weight in a safe way. Such programs should focus on lifestyle modifications, involve a multi-disciplinary team and not offer a miracle weight loss in 30 days.
No matter the age of a person, the optimal goal of controlling body weight is to die young as old as possible.
Dr. Danielle Bouchard is an assistant professor at the faculty of kinesiology and recreation management of the University of Manitoba. Her current research interests focus on how to decrease the rate of inactivity in adults and older adults, the role of age in lifestyle modifications, and the effect of obesity or weight loss on physical capacity in older adults. She has published more than 25 peer-reviewed articles on these topics.
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