Older Adults Face Double Whammy When It Comes to Body Fat
When it comes
to body fat, today’s older adults face a double whammy, according
to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and
colleagues. Up until age 80, older adults not only gain fat as they age
but because of the obesity epidemic, they actually begin their older
The result is
an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure,
arthritis and disability, according to Jingzhong Ding, M.D., Ph.D.,
lead author and a researcher on aging at Wake Forest Baptist.
focuses on changes in body composition related to aging and in the
population over time. It is significant because the researchers used
DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) to measure actual body fat to
determine the proportion of fat versus lean mass (muscle and organs).
measurements were made on 1,786 well-functioning older adults from
Pittsburgh, Pa., and Memphis, Tenn., from 1997 to 2003. Participants
were 70-79 at the time of enrollment, a critical period for the
development of disability. Body composition, especially the combination
of toomuch body fat and a decrease in muscle is believed to contribute
provides a better picture of age-related changes in body composition
and it’s not a good picture, said Ding, an assistant professor of
gerontology and geriatric medicine. demonstrates that up until age 80,
both older men and women gained fat but lost lean mass each year. These
age-related changes were compounded by the obesity epidemic.
to measuring the effects of aging on body composition, the researchers
also looked at the effects of the obesity epidemic, which most
scientists agree began in the late 1970s. Between 1976-80 and
1999-2000, the rate of obesity doubled in older adults.
scientists divided participants into 10 groups based on their birth
years (from 1918 to 1927). They found that at the same age, those born
later, who had spent more years during the period when obesity was
increasing, had a higher percentage of body fat. For example, among
80-year-old men, those born in 1927 had about 10 pounds more fat and
3.75 pounds of muscle, compared to those born in 1918.
effects of aging and the obesity epidemic results in bigger body size
and less lean mass among the elderly, said Ding. This may lead to
disability and other illnesses in the elderly and could be dramatic in
the coming years. It points out the great public health importance of
developing appropriate interventions that target fat loss while
preserving skeletal muscle to prevent disability and other
was supported, in part, by the National Institute on Aging. The
researchers analyzed data from the Health Aging and Body Composition
(ABC) Study, a large study investigating the effects of body
composition on morbidity, disability and mortality in the elderly. The
study was reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
involved in the study were the University of Pittsburgh, University of
Queensland in Australia, UV Medical Center in the Netherlands,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California
at San Francisco, University of Tennessee Health Science Center,
University of Florida and North Florida/South Georgia Health System.
For more information on the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, visit www1.wfubmc.edu/school.