Obesity And Older Adults — Shaznida Ghulam & Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming

Efforts should be put in place to help people, particularly older adults, achieve and maintain a healthy weight while maintaining their physical functions.

The world is ageing as obesity is rising! An important change with regard to the ageing process is accumulation of fat mass, also known as obesity.

Worldwide, overweightness and obesity have overtaken undernutrition in terms of overall health risks. Obesity is an emerging public health threat, affecting 800 million people, with millions more at risk. 

Obesity is a major determinant of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes mellitus, heart diseases, certain types of cancer, gallbladder diseases, respiratory problems, and musculoskeletal disorders.

It also increases the likelihood of comorbidities and doubles the risk of Covid-19 hospitalisation.

In Malaysia, the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2015 reported the prevalence of obesity among older adults was 30.2 per cent. Obesity among older adults was significantly higher in females, those from urban environments, and among Indians.  

Obesity in late life confers a higher risk for impaired physical functions, which may contribute to poor quality of life. Obesity potentiates frailty, a decrease in strength, endurance, and physiologic function, which result in an increase in vulnerability to injury and disability. Obese disabled older adults frequently have muscle weakness, poor mobility, and higher fall rates. 

Falls in older adults is a major public health issue. In the 2018 NHMS, 14.1 per cent of older adults reported having experienced at least one fall during the last 12 months.

Falls can cause injuries that contribute to disability, mortality and increased health care cost. Even when falls do not result in physical injury, it may cause older adults to become fearful of falling, with consequent restrictions on daily activities and onset of functional decline.   

Since obesity is common among the older adults, a combination of exercise and modest calorie restriction appears to be the optimal method of reducing fat mass and preserving muscle mass.

Key points for the management of weight loss among older adults may include lifestyle modifications which are achievable and safe. 

Weight loss may be accompanied by a decline in fat mass. Therefore, activities to maintain muscle mass, strength, bone density, balance and functional status strength, should be a component of all weight loss plans for older adults.

This is particularly more crucial for those who are obese with decreased lean body mass (sarcopenic obesity). 

Aerobic training, resistance training, and balance activities may result in significant quality-of-life gains and improved functional independence. More spaces for safe walking, cycling, and other recreational activities should also be made available in neighbourhoods everywhere.

In conjunction with World Obesity Day on March 4, 2022, there must be awareness that obesity is a disease, and efforts should be put in place to help people, particularly older adults, achieve and maintain a healthy weight while maintaining their physical functions. With “Everybody Needs to Act” being this year’s theme, together we can make a difference for everyone.

Shaznida Ghulam is a DrPH candidate, and Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming is from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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