NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 29, 2010

Adults over 70 who are classified as overweight are less likely to die over a 10 year period than adults who are in the normal weight range, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 

Researchers looked at data taken over a decade among more than 9,200 Australian men and women between the age of 70 and 75 at the beginning of the study, who were assessed for their health and lifestyle as part of a study into healthy aging.  The paper sheds light on the situation in Australia, which is ranked the third most obese country, behind the United States and the United Kingdom. 

  • Obesity and overweight are most commonly defined according to body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing bodyweight (in kg) by the square of height (in meters).
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) defines four principal categories: underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese.
  • The thresholds for these categories were primarily based on evidence from studies of morbidity and mortality risk in younger and middle-aged adults, but it remains unclear whether the overweight and obese cut-points are overly restrictive measures for predicting mortality in older people. 

The study began in 1996 and recruited 4,677 men and 4,563 women.  The participants were followed for ten years or until their death, whichever was sooner, and factors such as lifestyle, demographics and health were measured: 

  • The research uncovered that mortality risk was lowest for participants with a BMI classified as overweight, with the risk of death reduced by 13 percent compared with normal weight participants.
  • The benefits were only seen in the overweight category not in those people who are obese.
  • While the same benefit in being overweight was true for men and women, being sedentary doubled the risk of death for women, whereas it only increased the risk by a quarter in men. 

Source: Report, "Overweight Adults Age 70 or Older Are Less Likely to Die Over a 10-Year Period," Science Daily, January 28, 2010. 

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