Overweight Elders Live Longer? Perhaps

Obesity can prolong life in seniors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) We all know that excessive weight is adverse to our health.  Many times, obesity limits our quality of life and increases our chances of an early death.  But this may not be the case for seniors over the age of 85.

In a study by Tel Aviv University, researchers found that extra weight in people over the age of 85 actually helped them stave off death, but obesity might not be the fountain of youth we’ve all been searching for.

"Talk to your doctor about treatments for obesity"

The study, lead by researchers Prof. Jiska Cohen-Mansfield Ph.D., ABPP, of the Department of Health Promotion, School of Public Health and Herczeg Center on Aging at Tel-Aviv University and Rotem Perach, also of the Herczeg Institute on Aging as well as the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, evaluated 1,349 people between the ages of 75-94 over the course of 20 years.  Within the 20 year period, over 95% of the participants passed away thus leaving researchers with 59 remaining subjects.

What researchers discovered is that compared to normal and underweight elderly persons, overweight elderly people actually lived longer. 

But this only applied to people 85 or older.

There were many theories as to why this occurs. Researcher discovered that obese persons over the age of 85 had less development of osteoporosis, thus reducing their risk of falling and the injuries resulting from falls.

Research also believe that the extra reserve of energy stored in fat helped keep the elderly sustained during times of decreased appetite, which often occurs as people near the end of their life. 

While the study suggests that after a certain age, in this case, 85, obesity doesn’t pose the threat to life that it would to a younger, obese person, the ratio of people who live past 85 while obese isn’t statistically significant enough to suggest that obesity is the cure for mortality after a certain age.

Researchers are also quick to point out that although extra weight might help lengthen the days, even years, of a person’s life, their quality of life might still suffer. Many people, regardless of age, still deal with obese-related illnesses.  Other factors, such as “selective survival” are also at play, researchers say. 

For instance, if an obese person lives to be 85, they might just have a more resilient composition than other obese or geriatric individuals.

This study was funded by the U.S National Institute of Aging and was published by the Journal of Aging Research in June 2011.  No conflicts in funding were presented.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 28, 2012
Last Updated:
February 29, 2012