One in three elderly people obese, warn scientists

MORE than a third of men and women are now becoming obese in old age, according to a study from a Scottish university.
For some weight gain may be due to lack of motivation in cooking healthily for one. Picture: PAFor some weight gain may be due to lack of motivation in cooking healthily for one. Picture: PA
For some weight gain may be due to lack of motivation in cooking healthily for one. Picture: PA

Experts said while expanding waistlines may be something people naturally acquire as they age, for others the increase was due to lack of motivation in cooking healthily for one, feeling “old and disconnected”, and opting out of regular exercise.

Researchers at Glasgow University examined data from the Scottish Health Survey and the Health Survey of England to compare the waist sizes of groups of people between 1994 and 1996 and from 2008 to 2010.

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Between these two periods, the number of people with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, which is considered obese, increased by 5 per cent to 15 per cent on average.

This reached a peak at age 60 to 70, with 35 to 38 per cent being obese in both sexes. The peak happens five to ten years later than previously observed in 1994 to 1996 for men, and is unchanged for women.

Katrina Coutts, spokeswoman for Age Scotland, said there was a range of factors contributing to older people’s obesity.

“Eating healthily can be a challenge for older people, many of whom are on a low and fixed income, or may have previously been part of a couple and suddenly, following a bereavement, find themselves having to prepare meals for one,” she said.

“Most older people want to live independently for as long as possible, and keeping active is key to achieving this. That doesn’t have to mean taking on an expensive gym membership. Walking, together with simple strength and balance exercises, is a really good way to help stay independent and prevent falls.”

The researchers found that between the two dates, average BMI at all ages and for both sexes in Scotland and England increased significantly, as did the prevalence of BMIs above 30.

The number of people with bigger waistlines also increased over the period, with the percentage of people with a large waist circumference – 40in for men and 34.5in for women – increasing from 30 per cent to 70 per cent at ages 80 to 85 for men, and 65 to 70 for women.

Waist sizes in Scotland grew considerably more than in England, with the prevalence of a large waist circumference increasing fourfold to 12.7 per cent in young men, and nearly five-fold in women to 28.2 per cent.

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Professor Mike Lean, whose research is published in the International Journal of Obesity, said: “People are growing fatter later in life, with waist sizes rising more persistently than BMI, which may indicate increased loss of muscle mass in old age.

“Within the 14-year period of this study, we are also seeing more young people entering adult life already obese. The rise of waist circumference in older age groups is evidence of continued body fat accumulation and redistribution into older age, which is a major public health concern.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to creating a healthier Scotland. Last year we launched our Active and Healthy Ageing Plan for Scotland, building on work already under way to improve the health, well-being, lives and life circumstances of older people.”