Should Obese Older Adults in Health Care Communities Be Encouraged to Lose Weight?

The obesity epidemic challenges health care professionals who care for older adults.

Our next great challenge in working with the nutritional needs of older adults in health care communities will be one that we have not worried about in many years: obesity. In the U.S., the prevalence of obesity in the general adult population is now at 67% (1); among adults over the age of 75 this rate was 26% for men and 27% for women in 2007-8. This may not sound alarming until you realize that this is an increase of 100% and 42% respectively since 1988-1994 (2). It is clear that in the coming years we’ll see more obese residents enter health care facilities for both short-term rehabilitation and long-term stays.

Obesity and Disease Risk in Older Adults

Along with higher rates of obesity, older Americans are experiencing higher rates of obesity-related diseases. This includes coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer. In addition, obese older adults report more limits to activity levels which can lead to further increases in obesity and contribute to metabolic syndrome and/or sarcopenic obesity – age related loss of skeletal muscle mass coupled with obesity which can lead to weakness, frailty and falls.

Benefits of Weight Loss for Obese Adults

At first glance, it is easy to think that weight loss should be the prescribed course of action for all obese older adults. After all, it has been shown that weight loss can help reduce the risk of chronic disease or – for those who already have chronic disease – help control those diseases that tend to be worsened by obesity. Plus, there is some evidence that weight reduction in obese people over the age of 65 has similar health benefits to those at younger ages, primarily related to the reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors. tricycle for kids

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